Top headteacher: British education is "world-beating and yet we don't acknowledge it"

3rd November 2013 at 08:00

Political rhetoric and negative press have led Britain to seriously underestimate its own education system, while the rest of the world is desperate to mimic it, a leading headteacher has said.

The world looks up to the state system in the UK, just as its own politicians are intent on criticising it, said Melvyn Roffe, head of Wymondham College in Norfolk.

The head (pictured), who leads the country’s largest state boarding school, said many lessons he had witnessed in the Far East amounted to little more than “instruction” and would not score more than “inadequate” in an Ofsted inspection.

He told TES that countries such as Singapore and China – which Michael Gove has praised widely – were now trying to move away from traditional models and wanted education that “encourages creativity”.

The former chair of the Boarding Schools' Association said: “It’s one of those lovely ironies I think, the only people who don’t think British education is very good, are actually people in Britain.

“Most of the things we have done in the past 20 years in terms of pedagogy, in terms of tracking and monitoring and intervention, you don’t have to go to the Far East to find them lacking: lots of European countries don’t do it, you won’t find a lot of that sort of thing in a typical French school, for example,” he said.

“Even the most down-trodden academy in the most difficult circumstances will be doing things in its practice which are genuinely world-beating. And yet that’s not a story that’s very often told or acknowledged.”

He said the eagerness of different countries to copy British practices and label international schools as “British” all indicated the status we have abroad.

Very few people wanted to set up Finnish international schools, he said, despite its high rankings in international league tables.

“If you want to set up a school in a farflung part of the world and you want to fill it you call it the 'British school…' you put a union jack on the front of it and you get a head from the UK and you fill it,” he said.

He also claimed that A Levels and GCSEs had ongoing prowess in the wider world, despite criticisms at home that they are too easy or worthless. Foreigners entering the private school system were keen to gain them, he said, because they recognised their value.

“Looking at it from our perspective, and listening to the rhetoric we get from sections of the press, sections of the political establishment, we underestimate what we do well and that is an enormous shame,” he said.

He held up the comprehensive school system and the concept of the school being part of a community as part of the success story, whilst simultaneously acknowledging the usefulness of grammars.

Mr Roffe is leaving Wymondham College at the end of the school year to become headteacher of George Watson’s College in Edinburgh, a co-educational independent day school with 2,300 pupils.

He said the move would mean he no longer had to "worry about what Michael Gove had for breakfast".


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