Stories + Views
Of left and right hands…
In her excellent piece in today’s Observer on Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the inner city school that has received so much positive press attention in recent times, journalist Carole Cadwalladr quotes the headteacher of EGA, Jo Dibb, on her frustration at the failure of so many well off families in Islington to send their children to schools like EGA.
Cadwalladr herself describes the school as ‘ a brilliant example of what an inner city institution can achieve’ and echoes Dibb’s puzzlement, as well as enormous pride, that no less a figure than Michelle Obama had “ ‘bought into the ethos of this school’, where difference is embraced and celebrated, and yet the middle classes of Islington so far, had not.”
Of course, the Obamas educate their own daughters at an exclusive private school in Washington, Sidwell Friends, a school that even the Washington Post describes as ‘pricey’ – so there is no actual evidence that they, as parents, would support such a school as the EGA should they be living round the corner.
But lack of middle class support for inner city schools can also – sadly – be traced to coverage in newspapers like the Observer itself.
In March this year, in a major interview with maverick Katherine Birbalsingh in the Observer, journalist Andy Anthony referred to the fact that Ofsted currently judges 60% of schools to be ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ . However, Anthony concluded, pretty much on the basis of Ms Birbalsingh’s say-so alone, that “it’s safe to to say that ‘mediocre and poor’ would seem a more appropriate verdict.”
A number of us - all campaigners for comprehensive education and fair coverage of comprehensive schools – wrote a letter in protest to the paper. However, the letter was not published.
I reproduce it below for interest of LSN readers
3 March 2011
For the Letters page:
We were sorry to read the subtly uncritical interview with Katharine Birbalsingh in last Sunday’s Observer giving succour to her unbalanced views on state education.
Your interviewer referred to the fact that Ofsted currently judges 60% of schools to be ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’ and then goes on to make the astonishing claim that “it’s safe to to say that ‘mediocre and poor’ would seem a more appropriate verdict.”
Birbalsingh herself has gone on record praising the quality of state schools she has previously worked in.
Your interviewer offered no challenge to Birbalsingh’s absurd generalisations concerning differences in teaching and learning in independent and state schools. He did not seem to know that the pro comprehensive movement has consistently suggested reforms to our schools, including an end to academic selection, smaller class sizes, more freedom and support for teachers and enhanced parental involvement.
Birbalsingh conveys her views in a dramatic, personal and inconsistent manner that clearly appeals to the press. Could the Observer now give equal space to the decidedly less sensational views of heads, teachers, parents and students daily involved in our state schools?
Most of these will have a very different perspective on current problems in education, including the damaging role played by current government policy and the continuance of a powerful independent and selective sector hindering the development of first class comprehensive education and genuine social mobility?
Professor Peter Mortimore
Professor Richard Pring