10 March 2009

Why I am remaining a School Governor

There are quite a few changes going on at the school where I have been a governor for the last fourteen years, and I am really worried that Kingston Council is forcing us down the wrong path, so I thought that this was a good time to sit back from the current crisis, re-examine why I am a governor and then nail my colours on what should be done firmly to the mast.

Let’s start with the good news.

The school that I am involved with is a wonderful, warm, welcoming and achieving place. But do not take my word for it, here are a couple of stories told by Ofsted in an inspection report.
“Older pupils look out for and help the younger ones as ‘buddies’ in the playground, as prefects and as playground patrollers, looking out for pupils who are lonely or having problems and sometimes resolving conflicts. These very good relationships were often reflected during the inspection in the way pupils helped each other in lessons. For example, a Korean pupil who had been in the school for only a short time was helped to join in a scientific investigation by her partner, who successfully encouraged her to become part of her group.”
“There were many instances observed where pupils of different capabilities and backgrounds worked with each other and gave each other support or help. Autistic pupils, in particular, were welcomed into classrooms. One Year 4 autistic pupil was helped to enjoy a games lesson on the school field by one pupil in particular who helped him to join her group and encouraged him to take part in the activities.”
We have worked hard with the children, their parents, school staff, volunteers (particularly Age Concern), other childcare workers and the wider community to build a school that is truly inclusive, respectful and motivated.

The school has been prominent, if not dominant, locally in all sorts of activities, including the written and performing arts, bridge and chess. One of our pupils even won a national competition for a story.

We offer our children a whole range of experiences that many of them would not normally get at home and they excel at them. They enjoy them too.

I am proud of the (very) small part that I have played over the last fourteen years in the development and success of the school.

But now comes the bad news.

The school serves a relatively disadvantaged area, and gets fewer resources than similar schools to help address, this which results in relatively low results in the Standard Attainment Tests (SATS) taken by pupils in the final year at primary school. Kingston Council is upset by this.

At our last governors’ meeting, a representative of Kingston Council twice said very clearly that the purpose of our school is to give our children a foundation in English and Mathematics to enable them to learn at secondary school. No mention of other subjects, no mention of arts and sports, no mention of social skills; just English and Mathematics. I could not disagree more.

The Council’s relentless drive for English and Mathematics has absolutely nothing with helping children to make the most of their lives, it is all about hitting targets set by the Government in these subjects and Kingston Council does nor care what it does to try and make these targets.

Schools are strongly encouraged (forced even) to hold extra classes outside of normal school hours for children deemed to be underperforming, to find excuses to exclude these children from the tests and to make the children take many practice tests.

The end result can improve standards in these two subjects but at the huge cost to the children and staff who both find that the school becomes an unhappy place. The children are forced to practice and take individual tests; the joy and companionship are taken out of learning. And the staff are scared that they will be blamed for any perceived failure by their children. The number of senior secondary leaders sacked each year has increased five-fold, with at least 150 dismissed in England last year, research suggests.

This relentless pursuit of exam results is putting children off school and despite a lot of effort, and money, being put in to trying to keep children in school they are staying away in increasing numbers. The only surprise is that anybody is surprised.

Outside of Kingston the tide has firmly turned away from a strict focus on just two subjects and this trend was given a major boost by a recent authoritative report from Cambridge University which concludes that children in England are getting a primary education that is too narrow and warns that too much emphasis on testing the basics could "impoverish" learning in areas such as the arts.

What next?

I am more convinced than ever that the approach our school is taking is the right one for our children and for our community and it would be wrong to let Kingston Council destroy that. Therefore I will remain a governor to try and stop this.

But the main reason I am going to stay a school governor is the reason that I became one in the first place – my skills and experiences can help the children of the school and that is help that I am more than willing to give. It’s all about the children.

2 comments:

  1. I'll second that! I totally agree with your view on education as a whole. I too have heard of that new Cambridge report, which just underlines the need for a broadening of education. This paranoid fear of not getting good enough results is ruining the actual teaching, they just learn to sit tests. Keep on doing your good work, Matthew!

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  2. Michael at 16:17 on 11 March

    I've tried three times to post a comment on your blog, but each time has failed! What I was going to post was:

    Social skills, caring, inclusiveness, tolerance, respect for others – are all important aspects of a good education. BUT reasonable levels of competence in English and Maths ARE also important: for development as independent learners, ... Read morefor self-esteem and for a proper participation in society – whether in terms of work, or culture or leisure or politically.

    So doing my small part to try and help to make sure that all our pupils get a broad education including the tools they need for life, is why I, too, continue to be a governor.

    Michael

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