Pupils paid the price. It was their school’s fail­ure

The Guardian - Journal - - Opinion -

An in­de­pen­dent in­quiry has laid bare both the cal­lous­ness of poli­cies which forced pupils out of a highly se­lec­tive state school, and their down­right il­le­gal­ity. St Olave’s, a gram­mar school in Or­p­ing­ton, south-east Lon­don, treated its stu­dents as “col­lat­eral dam­age”, the scathing re­port com­mis­sioned by

Bromley coun­cil has found. The lengths to which it went to uphold and bur­nish its rep­u­ta­tion for aca­demic ex­cel­lence are ex­tra­or­di­nary and would be ab­surd if not so dam­ag­ing to the chil­dren af­fected. But the case is not an anom­aly; in­stead, it lies at the ex­treme end of a much more wide­spread prob­lem.

The scan­dal emerged when the Guardian re­vealed that teenagers had been pushed out of the school half­way through the sixth form after fail­ing to get top grades in end-of-year ex­ams, leav­ing them dis­traught and strug­gling to find places to fin­ish their A-lev­els. It was il­le­gal to with­draw th­ese places on aca­demic grounds at this stage. Faced with le­gal ac­tion by par­ents and em­bar­rass­ing publicity, the school re­versed the pol­icy. The head­teacher was sus­pended and then re­signed.

Yes­ter­day’s re­port of­fers fur­ther shock­ing de­tails of the school’s treat­ment of pupils cop­ing with stress­ful cir­cum­stances in­clud­ing be­reave­ment, health is­sues and abuse; and of how stu­dents were re­jected with­out dis­cus­sion or sup­port. One of the pe­cu­liar as­pects of the case is that St Olave’s re­sults – as a se­lec­tive school in a wealthy area – were al­ready out­stand­ing. High-achiev­ing chil­dren were told they were not up to scratch. Other in­sti­tu­tions have more ba­sic con­cerns, be­ing des­per­ate to meet floor tar­gets and to com­pete for pupils via their place in league tables. Amanda Spiel­man, the chief in­spec­tor of schools, has rightly high­lighted the prob­lem of “off-rolling” chil­dren to pro­tect schools’ re­sults, and has warned that chil­dren with spe­cial ed­u­ca­tional needs and dis­abil­i­ties are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble. Re­jec­tion is not al­ways ex­plicit; par­ents can be per­suaded that their chil­dren would be bet­ter off else­where.

The prob­lem is not merely that statis­tics fail to cap­ture the true per­for­mance of schools. It is that mea­sures meant to as­sess per­for­mance have become tar­gets in their own right, dis­tort­ing pri­or­i­ties. While many teach­ers re­main ded­i­cated to help­ing all stu­dents reach their po­ten­tial, St Olave’s was not alone in “putting the in­sti­tu­tion above the pupils when in fact the in­sti­tu­tion is the pupils”, as the in­quiry put it.

Se­condly, the re­port tes­ti­fies to an alarm­ing lack of over­sight to set things right when they go wrong – a con­cern also raised with re­gard to acad­e­mies by MPs this week. The De­part­ment for Ed­u­ca­tion lacks the ca­pac­ity to make up for the shrink­ing role of lo­cal au­thor­i­ties. Par­ents com­plained to a suc­ces­sion of bod­ies, from the board of gov­er­nors to Of­sted, with­out ef­fect. Bromley coun­cil should be com­mended for com­mis­sion­ing this re­port; other lo­cal au­thor­i­ties should read it care­fully. But a more fun­da­men­tal re­con­sid­er­a­tion of the pur­pose of schools, and how we can make sure they achieve it, is needed.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.