Dalton's Diary: It really is a battlefield

9th May 1997 at 01:00
The triage system was devised on the battlefields of Europe by the brave men and women who tried to rescue the casualties of war. The injured were divided into three categories: those who would recover without treatment, who were left to fend for themselves; those who would die whatever help they were given, who were left to wallow in the mire; and those who could be saved if treated. Naturally, and very sensibly, the medical attendants and doctors concentrated all their attention on this last group. The triage nurses in the accident and emergency departments of hospitals perform the same function, focusing the limited amount of skilled help available on the patients who will benefit most.

I am told that this system has also been in force in some secondary schools as a result of league tables. Those GCSE candidates who might, with a great deal of help, scrape an E are left to sink or swim on their own; those whose grade B could be turned into an A with a little extra effort have to make it without professional assistance. The really crucial cases are those who hover on that life-or-death border between C and D, who must receive every possible support.

I really thought that a little primary like mine could maintain its integrity and cater for every child at the level of his or her own need and ability. So far we have, but the prospect of the publication of primary league tables is causing such anxiety that triage is starting to look like a more attractive proposition.

When last year's national results were reported by BBC radio news programmes, it was said that there was up to three years' difference in performance between "the worst and the best schools". The implication is clear: children are a uniform and invariable factor; success and failure are down to the schools.

My own school is very unlucky, in that our SATs results for last year, the first and possibly the only year for which key stage 2 results for individual schools will be published, were uncharacteristica lly poor.

The previous year group, with the same teacher, did spectacularly well, and the current Year 6 are on target for good results, but last year everything seemed to be against us.

Although we can explain this blip in our performance to our own satisfaction, it will still be damaging to staff morale, parental confidence and our reputation in the local community. In a small group of children, where every "failing" child represented 5 per cent of the total, we had disproportionate numbers of boys to girls, summer-born children, newcomers to the school, and children from broken families and on the special needs register. For some of these children, a level 3 was a very good result. Several children gained level 5, but that does not help our overall position. Only level 4 signifies, and triage beckons.

In fact it is beginning already. "There is a little group of Year 6 boys," mutters the headteacher, "who could perfectly well get level 4 if they didn't spend so much time fooling about." She did not actually use the word "fooling" -she employed a technical term unfamiliar to me as a mere lay governor, but which teachers would probably recognise. She went on to talk about co-operation with parents, more homework, more effort. It will do them no harm, and our results will do us credit, but I shall always remember this Year 6 for their wonderful performance of A Christmas Carol, and that will not register anywhere on the league tables, more's the pity.

Joan Dalton is a governor in the East Midlands

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