Sacrifices on a political altar?

6th June 1997 at 01:00
It's been one hell of a week. Colleagues weeping in the staff room, saying: "I don't know what more they think we can do." My Year 7 English class looking at me in bewilderment, asking: "Why are they saying all these things about our school?". Their trust in their teachers and their school is still there, but they are unable to understand why the school's name and the reputations of all within it have been tarnished.

My Lower-Sixth English literature class express a mix of anger and outrage. "Why can't they just leave us alone?" "For as long as I can remember we've been told by people outside we're rubbish. I'm sick of it." This from a class of 10, where each student last year achieved eight or more passes in the A-C range. There is, of course, anxiety among them. "Will you be leaving now, Miss? Will any of our other teachers?" Not surprisingly, some of my colleagues are leaving, spurred on by the school being named in the Government blacklist. Some have resigned outright. Some have gone to job interviews, with added eagerness to be welcomed into a relatively trouble-free educational zone. Who can blame them? Many are highly experienced staff whose loss will be yet another barrage to the sides of our ailing ship. Their new schools will be fortunate in the quality of their teaching and professionalism.

People such as myself, still perhaps too shell-shocked to contemplate leaving, are unable to shake off the overwhelming unfairness of the decision. Our pupils come from more than 40 junior schools. They speak 30 mother tongues other than English. We have more than 40 children with statements of special educational need. Yet in the four years I have been there, Kelsey Park's percentage of A to C grades at GCSE has steadily grown to last summer's 27 per cent, a figure hundreds of other schools would consider respectable.

Colleagues in other blacklisted schools must share these sentiments. Lilian Bayliss, for instance, has more than doubled its GCSE grade A to C passes in a year, but is still singled out as being among the "worst" schools.

Our school, Kelsey Park, has had to survive several changes which would create waves of uncertainty and instability in any school. In the past three years, there have been three headteachers, two acting heads and a series of deputy heads and acting deputy heads. There has also been a regular turnover of staff in certain key areas.

Last year several senior members of staff retired or took early retirement (as did hundreds of their counterparts) in an attempt to pre-empt the proposed new regulations on early retirement.

In 1994 we were visited by OFSTED - an inspection which, incidentally, we did not "fail" - followed by HMI checks on our progress. We were placed on special measures 14 months ago, bringing the mandatory recoveryaction plan, which led to restructuring and, inevitably, fallout of staff.

Imagine the strain on our community - a word I do not use lightly. Drastic measures such as these affect everybody involved in the daily operation of the school.

As for the teaching staff, we have been working 12-14 hour days for many long months, with little or no respite during weekends or holidays. But even that is not enough to redress the balance of what needs to be done, what can be done, and what there is simply neither time or energy to do.

We have had to keep going, for the sake of the children. This weekend our Year 11 and Year 13 students are focusing on studying for their exams, still reeling from the shock of being told that their school, their teachers and - by implication - themselves are "the worst in the country".

Teaching has never been an easy profession. Our school is not perfect (show me one that is). We acknowledge that there are areas of weakness that need to be addressed.

But Blacklist Tuesday has not helped. If it is the government's intention to "help", then we need positive and constructive aid. We do not need to be publicly and nationally lambasted. Nor do our children need to be accosted at the gates of the school by journalists eager to extract revelations of violence and mayhem.

All we ask is to be given a chance. A September deadline to implement the restructuring of the school, when vacancies are still not filled (and since the blacklist, are unlikely to be filled) is loading the dice against us.

Named we may be, but we are not shamed. If ultimately we are to be sacrificial lambs, the only shame will belong to those who allowed political expediency rather than sound educational judgement to guide their actions.

Maureen Rodger is a classroom teacher at Kelsey Park School in Bromley.

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