The desperate rush to move schools into the free market arena has created a threat for education for all of us. I speak not only as a vice principal, but also as a teacher who has over twenty years experience of collaborative work between schools and also as a parent with children who are faced with the upheavals and problems that are coming by the day.
I work in an area where there had once been a grand educational vision of a three part system to education – primaries, middle schools and upper schools. It is a system that was designed with great intentions, and strangely is a system that is now being promoted by the Conservative Lord Baker in his proposals for 14-19 education.
Collaboration between these schools could have led to incredible success, but unfortunately the blight of the ill thought out SATs ensured that this was destroyed. Where the middle schools could have developed students into fully rounded individuals, with independence of spirit and a maturity to encounter the rigours of KS4 challenges, the high schools chose instead to focus upon maximising the only league table statistic they could influence and publish – the KS3 SATs. A narrow focus led to undoubtedly “positive” positions in the league tables at the time, but also led to an impact on how broad the preparation was for further learning. Furthermore, the focus on the narrowness of the KS3 English SAT meant that extended writing opportunities were limited and students then needed substantial encouragement and support to feel that they could extend their writing and the depth of their expression.
The staff in the high schools should not be blamed – they responded to the means by which they were judged. For many staff, in high schools or upper schools, there is a threat, real or otherwise, that unless targets are hit, then jobs will be on the line.
And staff in the upper schools did not always help, with an old school “superiority complex” over colleagues in the high schools. This view meant that the desire for institutions to justify themselves become gradually more important than the welfare of the students within them, and no-one really seemed to grasp the fact that these children were “our” children, sharing in their journey across all our institutions.
A system with real potential has been let down by the mindless introduction of external league table measures and a failure over time of our leadership teams to show a real commitment to partnership working.