Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Jacking up the results

This is a story about two education ‘leaders’. A few years ago my friend taught at a Catholic primary school in Knowsley, it was as they euphemistically call it ‘challenging’. The economic and social profile of the area was bleak, high unemployment, family breakdown, alcohol abuse and drug taking. There were very high numbers of children on the special needs register.

The school survived and thrived due to the dedication of the staff and the headteacher who was much loved by the teachers, pupils and parents. However there was one thing that his Christian conscience wouldn’t allow him to do and that was pressure vulnerable 11 year-olds to pass exams purely to please the suits from the Local Authority.

Predictably the SATs results were terrible. A Local Authority brown nose ran the Infant School, so 7 year-olds were drilled to pass tests. They arrived in Year 3 with totally unrealistic National Curriculum Levels, but it heaped the pressure on because the ‘value-added’ scores in the Juniors were dire.

There was unremitting pressure on the school, Improvement Officers grilled the head and consultants came in and rubbished the Literacy and Numeracy planning. Eventually a senior education bod came in and asked in incredulous tones why the head had been in the same job for twenty years. Well, he’d just devoted his life to the school. That was the final straw, he took early retirement.

A succession of ‘super-heads’ came in, jacked up the results, staff left in droves, the ‘super-heads’ moved on, onwards and upwards.

In Knowsley it wasn’t only the SATs scores that ‘improved’ GCSE results rocketed up. In 1999 only 23% of students gained 5 GCSE passes at A-C level. After a critical Ofsted report, Steve Munby was parachuted in as Chief Education Officer.

By 2005 the pass rate had shot up to 43%. The ‘Guardian’ wrote that it was all down to the ‘mild-mannered but dynamic’ Mr Munby. So how did he do it? Ruthless pressure on heads to get results and the use of GNVQs to boost test results, one pass counted as four GCSEs.

In 2005 Munby left to become the Chief Executive of the National College for School Leadership (NCSL). A few months later the GCSE tables were reconfigured to include passes at English and Maths, Knowsley plummeted to the bottom of the table.

The latest figures for 2007 make interesting reading, the bottom five local authorities for passes at GCSE were-

Bristol 31.8%

Barnsley 31.2%

Sandwell 29.8%

Hull 29.7%

Knowsley 26.4%

Of course we can’t judge Steve Munby by results, because he has moved on. That’s the way it works in education, jack up the results by whatever means necessary, move on up the career ladder and leave someone else to pick up the pieces.

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