Sunday, 3 January 2010

Schools chief goes to the bottom of the class

I will try to do my best to convey the fury I feel at Professor David Woods staggering comments quoted in today's Guardian, about so-called 'prejudiced' middle class parents insisting on privately educating their children in the face of excellent state provided education, without expletives.

In the first instance secondary education in some parts of London is in a state of crisis. I am amazed parents haven't taken to the streets. As an example, our local comprehensive has GCSE results below National average, they have been threatened with special measures, there were two knife related instances in 2009 and they run through head teachers like 'Have I Got News for You' rotates Quizmasters.

Call me 'prejudiced', as indeed the Government's key education advisor David Woods just has, but I think my children deserve better. When we first looked over the school we went with friends whose son was also then in Year 6. We were equally disquietened by the lack of discipline, organisation and ambition for the children, but my friend, a Governor of a local primary school, felt that if local parents didn't make a commitment to the school it would never improve.  Six weeks into his first term their studious and delightful son left that school for the last time in an ambulance, having been kicked in the head. He too is now being educated privately.

So who is to blame? The parents who have re-mortaged their houses to enable their children to be educated in schools where fear is replaced by learning? Or the Goverment, who seem unable to offer us decent education?  According to Woods the disproportionate number of parents in London who choose private education do so because they have, and I quote 'innate and uninformed' prejudices enflamed by attendance at 'dinner parties in Islington'. If this is the informed view of Government advisors no wonder education is in such a mess.

The infuriating truth is that we are not pretentious elitists wanting to buy our children advantage, indeed the majority of us are not even dinner party goers; we just want a good local state education and for many of us that is simply not an option without moving to the right postcode. Woods also dismisses as 'prejudiced' the higher level of parents who send their children to state primary schools and then turn to private schools post year 6. What about the poor woman the Goverment tried to pillory in October because she claimed a bogus postcode to get her child into a decent school? Or the ludicrous number of parents applying to top state schools like Tiffin? Or the growing number of parents driven to educate their children at home rather than send them into schools where results are poor and bulllying rife?

The bald truth is the system is a mess and people are so worried about it they are willing to sacrifice a great deal to give their children hope.

Our children are endlesssly appreciative of the opportunity to go to a good school. At the end of last term Joe got the highest effort grade in his senior school, repaying our decision as best he can.

This is all very serious. A Government that thinks it can dismiss the agonising decisions parents have to make, with ill considered remarks, is in danger of being out of touch. In the light of Woods comments you would think that local parents like those who are working with the newly formed social enterprise, the Parent Promoted Foundation, that aims to set up parent run schools. would be welcomed with open arms. Yet their extraordinary commitment is currently being met by a wall of beaurocracy. It is a shambles that needs sorting out. Calling concerned parents names seems a hopeless place to start.

1 comment:

  1. Well, I went to a London comprehensive school (since closed due to its poor performance but I did ok) and I've carried out youth work in several others.

    Mr Woods' sentiments clearly aren't very tactfully expressed but the more interesting bit of the linked article for me is this:
    "Fiona Millar, a state school campaigner whose three children went to comprehensives near to where she lives in Camden, north London, said some parents now experienced 'epic levels of anxiety about school choice'. 'The children of aspirant, supportive and graduate parents can easily flourish in their local state school if it is good enough. But it can be hard to persuade parents of that.'"

    The % of state schools in London (certainly non-selective ones) where middle class young people might get a slightly lower standard of education than at a private school - given the limited resources of and extra pressures faced by state schools - is probably over 90%.

    The % where they're actually likely to be in serious danger of physical violence if other students find out they've done their homework is fairly small.

    Media reports (and general popular mythology perpetuated by everyone from politicians to comedians) often fail to distinguish between schools that have lots of students from poorer backgrounds but do reasonably well - and where middle class would do ok academically while also getting wider life experiences than they'd get at a private school - and schools that are anarchic pits of hell.

    That is a point that needs to made but I'd agree that having a pop at parents faced with decisions that are difficult enough already is probably not the best way to do it.