Slap in the face does not raise standards

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
Ouch. I'm still smarting from being slapped in the face by the Prime Minister. It was nothing personal. He slapped hundreds of other heads, teachers and pupils at the same time. Tony Blair's opinion of schools such as mine was made clear in an interview he gave the other week to The Guardian.

The interview centred around his visit to St Francis of Assisi Academy in Liverpool, where he waxed lyrical about the achievements of the academy programme. Mr Blair made clear his impatience with the rate of improvement in secondary schools. He cited examples of schools in his own constituency that get fewer than 40 per cent "good" GCSEs, and two which get only 30 per cent.

He then asked: "Would you want to send your kid to a school that gets you fewer than 30 per cent?"

Actually, Tony, many parents do and are very happy with the quality of education their children receive. Schools like ours (35 per cent and rising) are certainly not complacent. We are oversubscribed and have already expanded by two forms of entry to meet the needs of our local community. Ofsted praised our inclusive practice and our efforts to work with our community. We are doing everything to raise standards.

However, I do want to keep my Prime Minister happy and suggest some quick fixes that will ensure that my pupils achieve 60 per cent-plus five or more A*-C grade GCSEs in the next few years:

* as a newly-designated specialist school, I will select 10 per cent of pupils by aptitude in humanities;

* I will exclude all those troublemakers who require a lot of our time and attention and take us away from teaching;

* I will ensure that all prospective pupils sit a test - only to help us decide on aptitude and to band them fairly, of course;

* I will bin our inclusive education policy and refuse to accept pupils with special needs - especially those with moderate learning difficulties and behavioural and emotional difficulties who bring down our percentages in the league tables;

* I will say we are full when hard-to-place pupils are seeking places in Years 10 and 11;

* we will close our doors at 4pm and take no responsibility for social cohesion and disorder. The "it is nothing to do with us" model would make my life easier;

* I will refuse to accept children in public care, those without supportive parents, those with poor English, those who have never been to school before, those who live in poverty, and those with little respect for education or authority. And, of course, those without shiny black shoes and smart new blazers.

Mr Blair's impatience is understandable, but there are no quick fixes. Yes, we need to do things differently and Every Child Matters is a starting point. I wonder if Mr Blair has read this excellent document? The barriers to learning are complex and it will require joined-up thinking on the part of politicians, local government and children's services providers if we are to develop sustainable communities. This is the only way we can raise achievement for all our young people.

I recently attended a best practice seminar at the National College for School Leadership, and one of the questions we mulled over was how to persuade our best headteachers to take on headships in our most challenging schools. Speaking as one who leads such a schools, I do not expect rewards beyond my salary, but I do expect some respect. So stop rubbishing us, Mr Blair, and let us get on with the job.

Kenny Frederick is head of George Green's community school, Tower Hamlets, east London.

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