Silent success stories

22nd November 1996 at 00:00
Exam league tables often ignore the true heroes of our education system.

I want to tell the story of two of the forgotten heroes of our educational age when exam league tables mean that all eyes are on students who are in line for A to Cs at GCSE. Gillian Shephard, please take note.

I'll change their names to save their blushes. They'll be Peter and Graham for my purposes. Neither is an intellectual giant but both have the heart and spirit to fight on to the end of Year 11 and turn up for exams. Through this simple act they confounded the unspoken convictions of many who'd thought that school for them would end in tears.

Peter was big, potentially violent and highly disruptive. If things didn't go his way he would invariably hit out. He broke doors down, damaged furniture and flung his weight about. Peter found a way forward through meetings with a behavioural specialist who taught him to control his temper and to channel his energy positively.

Peter joined my science class at the beginning of his final year and I was justifiably apprehensive. My fears were unfounded. Peter settled and worked diligently. He produced excellent coursework for his science, wrote immaculate class notes and was always one of the first to finish. He maintained his work rate throughout the year and won the most improved student award for science. In his science GCSE he scored an E grade, too low for the short-sighted statistical gurus who compile government comparative tables, but still a silent success story.

Graham was less disruptive, but had profound and specific special education needs. Through tenacious work and gutty spirit every day he eventually gained a G in his science GCSE. It was a real achievement for a student such as Graham who, like so many of his disenfranchised peers up and down the country, persevered to the bitter end. School was not a happy time for Graham - he found most subjects incredibly hard. But he left us with a clutch of G-grade GCSEs and can truly look back on his final two years in school with a real sense of achievement.

Both Graham and Peter represent successes which are currently not fairly reflected in the league tables. No one, except the educationist is interested in the A to G figures. The search for a valid and comparative value-added measuring continues, but all the time we wait, the pressures on schools, students and teachers increase and success stories such as those of Graham and Peter can sound disastrously patronising. This is a terrible shame.

I want an education system which achieves success for all children of whatever ability and I want that success lauded to the rafters in each and every case. In such a utopian system there would be no need to write sour-faced articles to The TES congratulating students who are invisible to the current system.

Peter and Graham and the thousands of students like them deserve better.

Andrew Wright is a teacher living in Hastings, East Sussex.

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