My vision is of a visionary with blinkers

24th February 1995 at 00:00
It was with considerable dismay that I read "Driven by fear into the results fray" (TES School Management, February 17). In it, Bernard Barker advocates some highly selective strategies aimed at boosting the GCSE performance of the most able students in Year 11 in order to raise his school's position in the local league tables.

Is this the same headteacher who wrote Rescuing the comprehensive experience in the OUP's "Innovations in Education" series? Nine years ago, in that book, Mr Barker set out to offer an alternative vision of education to that which was being increasingly forced on schools by the right-wing ideology of successive Tory Governments. He argued that comprehensive schools and their teaching staff don't have to interpret the educational process as one which must, of necessity, foster an individualist, meritocratic approach. On the contrary, Mr Barker maintained strongly that, wherever possible, teachers should be providing classroom experiences which emphasise and encourage learning through groupwork and co-operative activities. This is the means by which children could develop into confident and mature future citizens, able and willing to become actively involved in the democratic process rather than operating at the level of passive once-in-a-while voters.

Can the man who wrote "examinations have become inflated out of all proportions to their real contribution to helping children learn" be the same man who now appears obsessed with exam results?

I don't know if Mr Barker has had much success in trying to establish the kind of teaching programmes which would best encourage and effect the changes he hoped schools could achieve. Perhaps we are now so shackled by the cumulative effect of ever-increasing centrally-controlled educational directives and legislation, that the small window of opportunity for moving in an alternative direction which Barker saw and tried to signpost, has now become impossible to reach through.

His TES article suggests he has lost all sight of that possibility. Instead, he seems to have become a defeated visionary, blinkered by and bound to an ideology firmly rooted in a belief in the competitive forces of the marketplace.

In the preface to his book, where he looked back to his own schooldays at one of the earliest comprehensives, in London, Mr Barker wrote:"The idea was to divide children according to their scores on intelligence tests and to hustle 'the best' through as many examination as possible. Once the egalitarian images were set on one side, Eltham Green failed the great mass of its pupils by its very preoccupation with success" Exactly. But this policy sounds dangerously close to that which Mr Barker has devised at Stanground and which he described with a certain proselytising zeal.

SIMON RANDOLPH

(Secondary school teacher)

2 Burghley Road

St Andrews, Bristol

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