Tuesday, 24 March 2009

When a grammar school fails...

I have never been an enthusiast for closing the 164 remaining grammar schools. Apart from anything else, it seemed a foolish distraction from the wider goal of raising standards in Labour's first term, and the balloting arrangements introduced in 1998 hardly suggested a groundswell of popular support. The only ballot to date - in Ripon - confirmed the status quo. Indeed, there is a lot to be said for the sort of partnerships now being developed with grammar schools which are improving choice and results for other schools.

But there is something quite extraordinary about the blind faith of some in grammars, as caricatured by a piece in today's Daily Mail about Ofsted placing Stretford Grammar School in Trafford into special measures. "Grammar school with a 96% GCSE pass rate branded a failure by Ofsted. Why? Its race policy is out of date," thunders the Mail in my print edition, managing to work two hobby horses into a single headline.

Yet in a selective grammar school, every pupil ought to achieve five good GCSEs including English and Maths, and a lot more besides. Any proper comparison must be with other grammars, not with non-selective schools.

And, here are the reasons why the school was really failed, according to the Ofsted report:

* The overall effectiveness of the school has declined since the last inspection and is now inadequate.
* Girls and higher ability students make insufficient progress. Mathematics and science subjects are weak in Key Stage 4. Too many students fail to attain the very highest grades they are capable of in their GCSE examinations.
* Too much teaching remains lacklustre and is not good enough to ensure that all students achieve as well as they should. A decline in the standard of students' behaviour in lessons is a consequence of teaching that fails to challenge, extend and inspire.
* Leadership and management are inadequate. Governance is inadequate (and there is then a brief mention of the equalities policies)
* The school's specialist science status has not had sufficient impact on raising students' achievement, improving the quality of teaching and learning or enhancing the curriculum.

There are many grammar schools that are stretching their able students and teaching exciting lessons. This is clearly not one of them. To pretend that any school that fails on so many counts is not failing merely because of its iconic status or because of political correctness is quite extraordinary.

Indeed, in other circumstances, a person uttering such tosh would be subjected to the full Why Oh Why? treatment ......in the Mail.

This post was picked up by John Rentoul.

No comments: