More Grammar Schools ? Really ?
The start of this term has coincided with the announcement that the government is not opposed to the re-introduction of selection according to academic ability. I shake my head in despair. If Grammar schools are the answer then the question is not “How do we increase social mobility in the U K?”. I speak from experience. I attended one in the 1970’s.
I remember clearly the prestige that was attached to passing the 11 plus and being offered a place at the Grammar School. You were one of the chosen few. The brown blazer and school cap were yours - along with a role as an extra in a story that went back to 1588. You were entitled to take part in an “academic curriculum”, sing - or pretend to sing - Jerusalem or Onward Christian Soldiers each morning and attend an annual speech day. And the assumption was that you’d go to university.
The package wasn’t appropriate for at least 20 of the 120 in our year group. They left at 16 having suffered the torture of engaging with subjects that meant nothing to them and teachers who were ill equipped to deal with youngsters who needed encouragement to learn French, Maths and Chemistry. The practical subjects that would have interested them more were badly taught and considered time fillers. Lots of others who might have benefited from well taught practical subjects were discouraged from choosing them. The class system said “No“.
Whilst the 11 plus might have led to inappropriate recruits to the Grammar School the impact was nothing to the effect the selection process must have had on the 85% of children who failed the 11 plus and went to secondary moderns. I always felt uncomfortable as friends and relatives were pointed in different directions at 11. 11?! What sort of society makes decisions about children at such a young age? How can anyone be said to have failed when they haven’t even arrived at teenage? I’m always impressed by those who attended secondary moderns and went on to have successful working lives. To overcome such an unfair early setback is admirable.
When I saw the Year 7’s arriving at Rushcliffe and Farnborough this week I was struck by how proud and optimistic they were as they begin life at their new school. I know the children at Arnold Hill will feel the same. The future’s bright. Anything is possible. The re-introduction of selection will not increase social mobility. Great comprehensive schools increase the life chances of all young people. They do! Surely the government should focus its attention on helping to make all schools great rather than create places which will inevitably be populated by those who can afford private tuition and who already have a clear view of a bright, exciting world. Many yearn for grammar schools but when it becomes apparent that few will attend them the atmosphere will change.
Our strap line is “Everyone will be given the chance to shine brightly“. Everyone.
GCSE results have been given out across the trust today. So many exceptional individual successes. It’s great to see. Pleased to see Josh Brown, the champion ice skater from Rushcliffe, getting high profile coverage. Given his training schedule his GCSE results are remarkable. If you want something doing ask a busy person.
The Farnborough results are hugely improved. Twice as many pupils achieved higher grades in English and Maths compared to last year – and 50% achieved a C or higher in Science. Things are happening.
Arnold Hill maintained last year’s improvement. 61% achieved C or above grades in English and Maths and pupils are making above average progress. With the new school ready for occupation it’s time forlift off.
Rushcliffe results remained high with 82% of pupils reaching at least a C grade in English and Maths with many more exceeding that level. All these figures may increase as papers are re-marked. A positive set of results which are a tribute to the hard work of pupils, commitment of staff and support of parents.
Yet another Secretary of State for Education
Another Secretary of State for Education. They come and go so quickly don’t they? Each arrives determined to make a mark. They are so “passionate” about the role. They have “enormous respect” for the profession and they see education as such an important force. And then they get a job elsewhere and become an expert in that area as well. Sorry to be so cynical but I was thinking about the forgotten passions that we’ve been encouraged to embrace during my days as a senior leader. Literacy and numeracy hours, specialist schools status, National Curriculum levels, KS3 SATS, AS and A2, diplomas - that was a cracker, the Deeps and now new “more demanding” GCSEs and “new” linear A levels. And of course there’s academisation. No doubt Ms. Greening will have her own exciting new projects.
In one way it’s good that Governments keep looking for ways to improve the system. We should never be complacent. The trouble is that a good initiative was never embedded in a year. If something is good enough to be introduced then guarantee it ten years so we can truly see if it has made a difference. In the end I become increasingly convinced that a government should just expect schools to have teachers who teach interesting lessons which prepare pupils for life, systems which ensure children behave well towards each other and to the staff, support staff who feel valued and enable teachers to teach well and senior leadership teams which enthuse others and take tough decisions when necessary. I’m sounding like Sir Michael Wilshaw…..
I see people doing the above across our three academies. At Arnold Hill, Farnborough and Rushcliffe there is a determination to get the basics right. Different environments, different circumstances - but more unites than divides. We all want to get the best for the children in our care. Examination results are an important part of this. We will all be judged upon the figures that emerge in August. I am re-assured by the fact that, whatever the results, employees across the trust have tried their best. That is so important to me. No one can do more.
I hope everyone associated with the Trust has a relaxing break. It’s been quite a year.
CEO: Trent Academies Group
(Arnold Hill, Farnborough and Rushcliffe working together)
Next week the Board agreed that the Trent Academies Group will work closely with the National Darts Association. Hence the title of the blog. I’m sure that many people will be surprised by this news but…..
Actually this is not true. It’s a trick to attract people to the blog. 180 is the number of views it had last week and I can’t pretend that wasn’t a little disappointing. Every week I get a reminder to write some words of wisdom and regular readers will know that the content varies from reflections upon politics to initiatives across the trust. The reason I write something is because my role inevitably means I am less directly involved with many members of staff and the blog is a chance for me to be keep in touch.
This week has seen yet more Shakespearian tragedy / comedy at Westminster. At least we aren’t rudderless anymore is the best that can be said.
The news from France is again shocking. July 14th in Nice sounds perfect. It wasn’t. It was hell.
Life in the Trust seems of less importance. Of course it does. However we must never forget that we are influencing the lives of 4000 young people every day. These youngsters will accumulate experiences whilst in our care which will influence how they respond to setbacks and opportunities. Our work is never less than important.
This week has been the Trent Academies Group Literary Festival. Across the three academies writers have explained their work, talked with students about how they approach writing and encouraged budding writers. Hopefully people like Bali Rai, Lisa Williamson, Paula Rawsthorne and others have made a lasting impact on at least some lives. I’ve witnessed many of the sessions and they’ve been impressive. The clear message that books can take you into another world, can provide knowledge and provide enormous entertainment has been shared every day. The work of the librarians - Toni at Farnborough, Debs at Arnold Hill and Lisa at Rushcliffe has been priceless. They’ve worked with Gareth to make the Festival happen. I’m grateful. Even bigger next year.
So nothing about darts. Sorry.
My favourite book is……
It’s “Litfest Week” across the Trent Academies Group. If Hay on Wye can do it why can’t we? Last year the idea was launched, this year it’s been carefully planned, the profile has been raised and it will be at a different level. I’m delighted to say that authors such as Bali Rai and Paula Rawsthorne have been signed up to speak at the academies. Other visitors include Steve Cawke, Gary Meehan, Angela Foxwood, Grace Balchin and Stephan Collishaw. All will be explaining where their inspiration comes from and how they organise their working lives. It should be fascinating. I’m certainly going to be calling into as many sessions as possible. I am full of admiration for anyone who can write a whole book. It’s a serious challenge to write thousands of words about something that happened or something that you’ve made up. I walk around Waterstones with a sense of wonder.
This week I caught Mr. White in assembly at Farnborough explaining what books meant to him. I was most impressed to find out that he’s long been a fan of Beatrix Potter! It’s amazing to find out what hidden depths people have. I think he convinced the Year 10 audience that reading matters and that it’s an activity that can take you into different worlds – even though you might not move. At a meeting of the Nottingham Education Improvement Board this week I was impressed to hear that a new project called "Small Steps, Big changes” includes the delivery of a free book every month for 5 years to all babies born in certain areas of the city. What a good idea. Having access to books is so often associated with higher achievement in school. But quite apart from that it entertains, informs and soothes.
I’ve always loved reading. I started off reading Enid Blyton stories, then anything to do with sport. I’ve always got a book available to read. At the moment I’m reading Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” and last week I read “Children of the Master” by Andrew Marr. My favourite book ever? Tough call. Either “The Magus" by John Fowles, "The Blue Afternoon” by William Boyd or “Northern Soul” by Ed Jones. All read at different times of my life. All gripping. In the end “ The Magus” has it.
Here’s to the TAG Literary Festival. And thanks to all at Farnborough, Arnold Hill and Rushcliffe who’ve helped to create it.
Prime Minister Harold Wilson famously said that “a week was a long time in politics”. If only he’d known what was going to happen in June 2016. Since the result of the European referendum was announced it seems like total confusion has descended upon the British political system. The Prime Minister resigns, the favourite to replace him decides not to stand after all, someone who said he didn’t have the skills required to be PM announces that he has now discovered them…..
And the shadow cabinet resigns and tells the leader of the opposition they think he’s hopeless and should step down. Him and his mates argue with them and say he’s staying on as leader. He has a rally in Westminster to tell his supporters why he is staying on. Twitter goes crazy.
The leader of UKIP - who had been an MEP for 17 years (presumably accepting a salary and expenses for his trouble) turns up in Brussels and tells the MEPs they are a set of wasters who have never done a proper job. The bloke behind him holds his head in his hands because he was surgeon before he became an MEP and had previously thought that might count as “a proper job”.
If any of the above is untrue then I apologise but I’m pretty sure it’s factually correct. You really couldn’t make it up. If anything approaching this sort of stuff happened at a school OFSTED would be called in and the phrase Special Measures would be used. I’d like to thank everyone across our academies for ensuring that over the last fortnight we have been a model of organisational good practice. It appears we might be experts. We might be able to help others. But then one of the potential future Prime Ministers said very clearly that he’s had enough of experts so don’t expect contact any time soon. Those without expert skills can continue to run the country.
Here’s hoping that light soon appears in the darkness.