Monday, November 05, 2007
If you had any illusions that Gordon Brown would be any different from Tony Blair hopes were completely dashed with his, ‘we’ll close failing schools’ speech. Annual targets for improvement will be given to 670 schools where pupils currently get less than 30% passes A-C at GCSE (including maths and English).
This approach harks back to New Labour’s early days in office in 1997 when arch-Blairite loyalist and education minister Stephen Byers ‘named and shamed’ the ‘worst eighteen schools’ in England.
The model for closing down schools and reopening them as brand new schools came from San Francisco. Reconstitution – “improving” low performing schools by replacing (“vacating”) all of the adults in the building was described as the “My Lai approach to school reform - you destroy the village in order to save it.”
Gary Orfield, who chaired the committee of experts that launched the San Francisco experiment, was forced to recognise the limits of reconstitution, “My basic conclusion is that this is like open heart surgery. It is necessary in some cases, but very costly and needs a very strong supporting team to give it a reasonable chance at success. It should not be done on a massive basis because it requires a great deal of investment in leadership in creating a brand new school in a situation which is inherently difficult.”
The English version of ‘Reconstitution’ was ‘Fresh Start’ – close the school and make teachers reapply for their jobs. The scheme never really did recover from that car crash moment in 2000 when four ‘super-heads’ resigned in one week, including Carole McAlpine who was featured in a high profile Channel 4 documentary about Firfield School in Newcastle.
The Times Educational Supplement (TES) surveyed Brown’s ‘worst performing’ schools based on test results and found that from the Ofsted inspections a third were graded ‘good’, 54% were satisfactory and only 16% were ‘inadequate’. Now I’m not saying Ofsted are infallible they certainly aren’t, but if anyone is going to fail a school it’ll be them. Schools in ‘challenging’ circumstances have to jump through hoops just to get a grudging ‘satisfactory’.
How the hell does the government think they will attract heads or teachers to schools that will ‘fail’ due to an arbitrary pass rate? Some schools have been caught in a cycle of failure. The most notorious case was Bradford Academy-
· 1963 opens as Fairfax community school
What is interesting is that Brown’s macho ‘name and shame’ doesn’t seem to extend to big business. Despite a falling share price and sales the chief executive of B&Q still walked away with a £150 million pay off, did Brown comment on that? Then of course there’s Northern Rock, bailed out to the tune of £18 billion and only one board member, Matt Ridley, has resigned. Silent on that one too Mr Brown.
When it comes to education there is of course another way, you can trust teachers and promote a comprehensive system where parents have a good local school to send their children to.