A decent education for white, bright children, please.

A friend pointed me in the direction of Luke Bozier’s blog http://lukebozier.co.uk/2010/07/schools-situation-follow-up/ . Here are my thoughts now I have read it. And calmed down enough to respond. 

I don’t know if the primary school admissions system is different in London but here in Brighton, if you apply for ‘five or six’ schools and they are all ‘oversubscribed’, your child won’t get in to any of them. You have to compromise and put down schools on your preference form which your friends might have decided are appalling. You have to remember you have the capacity for independent thought and try and be a little open-minded. You have to go and look around different schools. They may not be as bad as the rumour mill would have you believe.

I have three children, all of whom have attended (and in the case of the youngest, is still attending) schools with higher than average numbers of:

  • children leaving or joining the school mid-year
  • children with Special Educational Needs
  • children with English as an Additional Language.

These can present challenges for the teachers and other school staff. This does not mean that children will suffer or not do well at school. Other schools with different demographics present different challenges to teachers. I taught for five years in a primary school then judged as ‘excellent’ by OFSTED. Pupils’ behaviour was often appalling. This was because too many parents felt they knew more than they actually did about education and encouraged  their children to ‘stand up for their rights’ rather than respect their teachers. Teaching there was extremely stressful and it was often difficult for teachers to spend time teaching rather than on crowd control. This was an oversubscribed school in a middle class area with lower than average SEN, free school meals, EAL and families living in poverty.

I am not white. My children are mixed race. I think children benefit greatly from attending socially and ethnically mixed schools. They learn the social skills necessary to help them thrive in our diverse society. Believe it or not, I know white families who agree with me. We think it is a good thing if our children attend a local school. We do not get hysterical about large percentages of ethnic minority/poor/EAL children. And our children do well at school because they are well supported by us. We support the school. We work in partnership with the school. We share expertise and enthusiasm and ‘talk up’ the school.

League tables, no thanks to new labour, perpetuate snobbery about schools. Middle class, affluent, well educated people who would be well placed to support schools, especially struggling ones, look at league tables. Then they withdraw their children (or don’t send them in the first place) thus withdrawing their actual or potential support.

The school Luke was offered for his daughter received this report from Ofsted in 2008 (its most recent report)

http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/oxedu_reports/download/(id)/103270/(as)/101114_323405.pdf 

The report says that Ofsted graded the school 2 which means ‘good’ and says that it has some ‘outstanding’ features. Here is an extract:

Wilberforce is a good school. It is highly inclusive and has several exemplary features. Prime amongst these are the excellent support, guidance and care received by pupils who often face very significant challenges. The school is the conduit and facilitator for much outstanding multi-agency work which underpins the emotional well-being and academic achievement of a significant proportion of pupils. This support enables pupils to benefit from good teaching; they revel in many lessons, and the vast majority of the many groups represented at this school make good progress. Occasionally, however, teaching allows one or two pupils (sometimes, but not invariably, White British and/or high ability pupils) to drift at the edge of whole class teaching and learning. At such times, the progress made by these pupils, although satisfactory, is not as strong as others.”

If I had read that report about a school I had been allocated for my child, I would not be despairing. I would be happy about the many positive features. I would go and look around and think about what I could do to support the school once he started there.

Please read Fiona Millar’s article and if you have young children, take her advice and support their school:

http://www.thetruthaboutourschools.com/2010/07/04/not-so-happy-in-nappy-valley/

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12 Responses to A decent education for white, bright children, please.

  1. Luke Bozier says:

    I found your take in my piece patronising. I’m not worried with the opinions of my friends. In fact I have no friends living in the area who even know the schools around here. I also am not anti multiculturalism or immigration, but when a school has such a high turnover of children, how can kids make lasting, strong friendships?

    Im also certain that the problems, although similar, will be much worse in inner London than in Brighton. Ofsted themselves said that white or high ability children are kept aside, they weren’t my words. 96% of the pupils in this school are minority ethnic, because of the clustering in social housing and poverty and immigrants.

    I’m not some disgruntled middle class person, as you seem to insinuate. I grew up going to poor schools and coming from a poor family with no extended family around to help. By trying to give my girls a decent education I’m trying to give them a better start in life.

    • anpa2001 says:

      Luke, Thanks for your reply. Apologies if you thought I was patronising you, that was not my intention. This is clearly something we both feel strongly about. I will amend the title and remove the ‘middle-class’. In my experience though, all the people (and I know plenty) who hold similar views to you on school choice, are middle class. You say you are trying to give your girls a decent education – that’s what everyone wants for their children and I am surprised if you think that immigrant or poor families do not want the best for their children. I read the Ofsted report and have put the link in my article. It does not say ‘white or high ability children are kept aside’ it says ‘Occasionally, however, teaching allows one or two pupils (sometimes, but not invariably, White British and/or high ability pupils) to drift at the edge of whole class teaching and learning. At such times, the progress made by these pupils, although satisfactory, is not as strong as others.’ I don’t feel this is the picture you are painting. I am interested to know what you thought of the school when you visited it. Did you have an opportunity to put your concerns to the Headteacher? Regarding Brighton v London, you talk about ‘problems’ but I don’t see the same things as ‘problems’ as you do. I am from an immigrant family so maybe you will not be surprised to know that I don’t think high percentages of ethnic minority children make a school unacceptable for my children.

  2. tchee says:

    I know you have a lot of experience in education and I absolutely respect your opinion, as well as agreeing with much of your sentiments.

    I have had placements in schools that were judged as “good” but were far from it, in terms of behaviour & inclusion. The few days of doing everything “by the book” for the benefit of OFSTED is not always the daily norm. One reason that I don’t like the current inspection system, or league tables. I believe that choice shouldn’t even be an issue, all schools should be good enough so that it is unnecessary.

    That said, they aren’t all good. I don’t think it is the responsibility of local parents to send their children to a failing school to make it good again. That is the job of the school management team, the LEA and the DoE.

    I personally sympathise with Luke, most of us want the best for our children and take an active part in their education. I would not compromise their opportunity for a good education to do my social good turn for a failing school. I would be very concerned that high-achieving children were left to drift, at all whatever their race or colour – a good education should be a right for all.

    • anpa2001 says:

      Thanks for your reply. Did you read the Ofsted report? This school was deemed by Ofsted (and I totally agree that their opinion is not always the same as opinions of teachers or parents) to be a ‘good’ school with ‘outstanding’ features. Not an ‘inadequate’ school. Not a ‘satisfactory’ school. I linked the Ofsted report in this case because Luke made a point of quoting it. I care about my children’s education too. I don’t normally read Ofsted reports when choosing schools. I go and look and see for myself first. And they have all gone to undersubscribed, unpopular schools and done well there – I’m not just saying that for effect. I just don’t think a school should be ruled out because it has a certain percentage of ethnic minority children or a high turnover of children or low SATs results. Children of all abilities ‘drift’ sometimes and it is not always clear why that is. Sometimes it is due to unstimulating teaching. Or lack of application on the part of the child. Who knows. That comment has come from the Ofsted report (and not been quoted accurately by Luke); if that bit is true, maybe some positive things they said are also true.

      • tchee says:

        I didn’t read the Ofsted report and I do understand the point you make about minority ethnic pupils.

        Education is something that I understand parents not wishing to compromise on. It is easy to imagine a child not achieving or falling in with a ‘bad crowd’ and the parents forever wondering whether they had failed their child by not trying for a “better” school. It is a risk – no matter how small – that parents will not wish (nor should have) to take.

        The issue is that in an ideal world there would not be such gaps in standards between schools. The point with regard to minority ethnic pupils is a completely separate issue to that of Ofsted judgement. If the school accommodates pupils and they are all given the best education possible, with NO compromise or stretching of resources, then there isn’t a problem.

        Numbers then, are largely irrelevant, but where there is a large cohort of ESL pupils, there are many issues to consider. For instance, in an LEA that I have worked in, there are ~114 different languages spoken across their schools. This creates a challenge for the LEA and the schools, in terms of staffing resources – particularly in use of TAs, who are frequently attached to an ESL pupil if they are the sole speaker of a particular language in school. I have seen TAs assigned to ESL pupils and English speakers who need classroom support be unable to have it.

        It is a dreadful shame and something that I can only see getting worse, thanks to Mr Gove and the handy hatchett that his Coalition leaders handed to him.

      • anpa2001 says:

        Thanks for the reply. There absolutely needs to be more funding and resources to support more needy pupils (whether SEN, EAL or EBD for that matter) where needed. Smaller class sizes would also help, not in ‘free’ schools with all the exclusivity and other problems they will bring, but in properly funded state schools. Not all schools where lots of languages are spoken have huge problems though and there are also problems with human resources in schools with very few EAL children. I think everyone wants the ‘best’ education for their child but the form this takes is not an absolute thing, it’s more an opinion. Children can make ‘only satisfactory’ progress in a highly regarded school as well as one perceived as having lots of problems. Satisfactory progress, if that’s the worst thing that happens to a child of mine at school, isn’t really that bad; I wouldn’t see that as a huge gamble. Thanks again for the replies, the future of education deserves passionate discussion.

  3. Deeply Flawed But Trying... says:

    My daughter starts at a local school which got an appalling Ofsted report a few years ago. I know the reason it got an appalling report(long story- headteacher, breakdown). Lucky for me local parents abandoned this school, terrified their little darlings would somehow be damaged by the report that condemned it.

    The school is lovely, the staff friendly, the children fairly happy. It is not a school without it’s problems- but I thank god it got a shit Ofsted- because actually, it is no longer over subscribed, and my daughter will attend the school I always intended her to attend- without any of the angst that other parents seem to put themselves through.

    I have a friend who teaches in a private school. She can’t keep discipline- her kids are taught to undermine her, to stand up for themselves and the fees their parents pay. She has applied for a job at school which was failing until recently. She wants a job where she can teach, invest in kids who want to be there, contribute to the town she lives in.

    I liked this post- and think it needs to be said more often.

    • anpa2001 says:

      Thanks very much for your reply. Good for you for trusting your own instincts. I am so glad I am not the only person who is trying to see through the fog of reputations, rumour, facade and prejudice.

  4. Deeply Flawed But Trying... says:

    http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/oxedu_reports/download/%28id%29/57700/%28as%29/107551_273422.pdf

    I have just attached the report for the school I discussed. It is a tiny school, with small classes(many less than 16-17 pupils), lovely teachers- has really really good links with the town- and I cannot comprehend how it needed special measures.

    My friend’s kids have attended the school for throughout this time= and have been stunned by the treatment this school have received.

    Ofsted reports are misleading, measure an entire school from a sliver seen by inspectors- and quite honestly, while I am glad that the school is not over subscribed- I am also glad that Ofsted was the last thing I was looking at. THis has happened to several schools in the town I live in- good schools. This is not a town where you could say we have bad schools, not by any stretch of the imagination-and these reports have created angst where there shouldn’t be any. THere isn’t a single school here, I would hesitate about sending my child to.

    Sure enough though, every time I say where my little girl is going, someone expresses horror that I should choose a school which was under special measures till not so long ago.

  5. anpa2001 says:

    League tables are a huge part of the problem too. People look at them and draw all sorts of conclusions, don’t visit the school, don’t look with their own eyes, if you know what I mean. And snobbery about the ethnic or socio-economic (or both) make-up of the area the school is in. I just want my child to be happy and looked after. He is bright, his parents are bright and caring and he will learn. No problem. It is good that he mixes with people from a wide variety of backgrounds. This is the real world. Thanks for your replies.

  6. Pingback: Ofsted « Deeplyflawedbuttrying's Blog

  7. ronniegordon says:

    Here’s the thing about sending your child to an unpopular school
    Small class sizes
    Teachers are delighted if surprised for your custom
    Your concerns are much more likely to be listened to – especially if you become a governor
    Your child meets children from a wide range of backgrounds

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