Gazette Article 23: “I’m feeling positive as we get to the end of another school year”

(Published in the Brentwood Gazette – 23.07.14)

What a positive month it’s been since I last wrote this column.

After all the hard work preparing for exams by students, teachers and parents it has been great to read in this paper and on social media about so many fun and worthwhile activities in our schools leading into the summer holidays.

There are too many to comprehensively cover here but Ingatestone & Fryerning Primary’s World Cup challenge week and Holly Trees Tudor dress up were good examples.

I thoroughly enjoyed attending the St Thomas’ Junior School Summer Concert and the parents of West Horndon, Larchwood and Mountnessing Primary Schools were fulsome in their praise of their events on Twitter.
Cross school events have also continued. Shenfield High School hosted many of our primaries for a rounders event via their sport partnership, and we should also take pride in our secondary school students who won Jack Petchey Awards this month.

I get very annoyed when people are disparaged just on the basis that they are young, nonsense about national service in this newspaper being a good example. I can only think that particular correspondent had failed to see the article on St Martin’s sixth formers self financed trip to Africa or the excellent coverage of the first Brentwood County High School (BCHS) Community Day.

Testimony in the school magazine from Squirrels care home about the students helping out there puts such prejudice in perspective, “They were all a tribute to BCHS and to youngsters today”.

All concerned can now enjoy a well earned rest but wouldn’t it be great to start and continue the next school year building on the great finish to this one?

Gove goneThe appointment of a new Secretary of State for Education gave me pause to consider what I would like to see focussed on, locally and nationally, to help that to happen. The following is my wish list for the summer and beyond.

Celebration of success – When exam results are published later this summer let’s celebrate the achievements of all our students, regardless of what type of school they attend. The unfortunate recent tinkering with the exam system makes it very difficult to make meaningful comparisons with previous years, what won’t have changed is the huge effort that will have been put in by students and teachers alike. So let’s have no more talk of “grade inflation” and the like and let’s ensure all concerned get the credit they deserve.

Fair and open admissions – A recent report by the Children’s Commissioner has expressed concern about the too often seen disparities in intake between schools in the same area as the number of academies who are their own admissions authorities grows. I have also been contacted about families being asked to move schools mid-school career.

Nationally, or locally, state funded schools have no right to manipulate their intake. Some form of ongoing policing of admissions would provide greater confidence that there is a level playing field for students and their parents.

Equal resources for every child in a state school – As we all contribute equally to state schools through our taxes shouldn’t our children then have an equal sum spent on them? Setting new schools up where there is no shortage of places seems particularly wasteful in this context.

Listen to experts – Teaching is a profession that, until recently, required training and a qualification to practice. I find it puzzling that people with no training then decide they know more about how and what to teach than professionals. I would like to see education policy decided by trained people using accepted evidence and not held to ransom by the parliamentary cycle or party policy of any hue.

Scrap league tables and set up long term accountability – Schools are forced to focus on narrow, short term goals for fear of the consequences if they fail to improve on last year regardless of the cohort. Then we complain they are “exam factories”. Time to reassess.

Have a great summer.

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