What keeps me awake at night

When good news doesn't tell the whole story

In late August, a school was featured on the front pages of the local paper after achieving its best-ever exam results. The pages were full of pictures of beaming pupils and quotes from satisfied staff.

I, too, was delighted. You see, I worked at that school for nearly 25 years as a head of department. And yet there was something about the news that troubled me.

When I joined 31 years ago, the school was in the throes of amalgamation anxiety, as two local grammars and a secondary modern were shoehorned together. Combined overall examination results for the three institutions hovered between 30 and 40 per cent and, although we laboured to get them higher, it was not until several members of staff eventually moved on and a new headteacher made significant changes that we began to make progress.

By the late 1980s, results were in the 50 to 60 per cent range. But it all tailed off, for reasons too complex and controversial to go into here. Suffice to say that by the time I left, exhausted, we had been through four more headteachers. Results ground along at about 40 per cent and then dropped much lower. Now the headlines say: "60 per cent A*-C. Best results ever" and everyone is happy.

But I work part-time in a comprehensive serving an adjacent and very similar catchment area. It has always achieved 60 per cent A*-C. Or rather, its students have.

And that is why I have struggled to sleep since I saw those newspaper reports. Because it has taken 20 years for my old school to reach that level. And they haven't achieved it incrementally. The figures were still awful until less than three years ago.

So, for the best part of 20 years, some 4,000 young people achieved far less in school than they should have. I hope they are all doing as well as they can. And I hope I'm not the only one who is sleepless on their behalf.

The writer is a teacher from East Anglia

Tell us what keeps you awake at night

Email jon.severs@tesglobal.com

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