The long term rewards of avoiding parental peer pressure

Pete Shotton's picture
 10
We have 3 children. The oldest is 23 and now making her way in the world in London, having graduated in the summer. The next is 21, and she has just started a degree in acting. The youngest is 17 this month and is now at college, having taken his GCSEs this summer. They all attended Chorlton High School, our local comprehensive.

For a time it didn't look like this would happen. When our oldest was in year 5, transition panic was rife amongst the parents of her peer group. Chorlton borders Trafford Local Authority, which still operates the 11+, and Stretford Grammar School is less than a mile away. Some families were moving to Hale and Altrincham to ensure access to Altrincham Grammar. Oakwood, as our local comp was then known, was being talked about as the least desirable option. Although me and my wife were both peripatetic support teachers with the local authority and we had worked in, and liked, the school, we found ourselves caught up in the atmosphere of scare and doubt. If we spoke up for the school we'd be shot down with stories about bullying and poor results. This pressure, combined with the distinct possibility of our daughter's peer group all going elsewhere, led to us questioning our own judgement, and we started to look more at the other options.

We went to estate agents in Hale. The kids asked why and, when we told them, made it clear that they did not want to move.

We offered our daughter the option of taking the 11+. She decided she would, mainly for the reason that all of her friends were doing it.

We went to the transition open evenings at the Grammar School and at Oakwood. Oakwood was fantastic - interactive taster lessons for parents and children, enthusiastic and knowledgable teachers, slightly dog-eared buildings but so full of life. The Grammar School was well-resourced, with teacher led tours. When my daughter asked a question, the teacher directed his answer at me. We didn't feel engaged, or wanted. After that experience I knew that I wanted her to go to Oakwood. We agreed that we would leave the choice open, and consider her social and emotional needs as much as the academic. As teachers ourselves, we wanted her to have a happy and fulfilled school life, and we knew that if she had that then she would achieve, whichever school she chose.

She sat the 11+ with her friends, and passed. She then chose Oakwood, even though they opted for the Grammar. She was anxious because she didn't have the security of a friendship group going with her, but she said that after the open evenings she'd always pictured herself in an Oakwood uniform.

From September 1999 to July 2011 we always had at least 1 child in the school. It's in a new building now, with a new name (chosen by the school community after a ballot). The ethos has been consistent throughout that time - motivated and engaging staff, a truly comprehensive intake, an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect. We've had times where things haven't been straightforward. Our oldest daughter was threatened on her 2nd day by another girl who tried to start a fight with her after school. Staff handled it brilliantly, and a situation which could have confirmed all of the horror stories that other parents had told us actually ended with her feeling safer and more confident in school.

Our 3 all did brilliantly at Chorlton High School. They got great results, but they are also streetwise, compassionate, empathic and thoughtful young people. They are aware of privilege, and community and fairness. They have values. Some of that is down to us as parents, but the partnership we've enjoyed with a truly comprehensive school has been vital to their development.
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Guest's picture
Sat, 08/10/2011 - 15:16

I have posted elsewhere on this site about our very similar experience. We also believed that it would be fine to send our children to the local school which some friends had opted out of. The children wanted to go their but understood that some of their friends' parents were not supportive of the school and in fact would cheerfully rubbish the school in front of them. Now the children are all finished I can look back and know that we made the best decision. Like you not everything was perfect but the school was supportive. None of their friends did any better elsewhere and one whose parents had chosen for them not to go to the school so they did not get in with the 'wrong crowd' ended up not behaving at the school he went to. My children are also 'streetwise, compassionate, empathic and thoughtful young people'. Many of their acquaintances from more selective or middle class schools really have no idea how others live.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 08/10/2011 - 15:31

Pete: stories such as yours, the experience of Guest and the description by Rebecca Hanson of Cockermouth school on another thread, and the recent TV series "Educating Essex" show schools which are examples of thousands of other schools: competent, warm, humane and doing a good job. There's no need for commentators to keep banging on about how wonderful private schools are, and how state schools could do with some of their "DNA". Neither is it wise to judge schools merely on their exam results. There's more to education than pushing pupils through tests.

(For Rebecca's comments, scroll to the bottom of this thread, and listen to the music! http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/10/the-nightmare-of-private-s...)

JimC's picture
Sun, 09/10/2011 - 10:40

The problem with some state schools isn't how they deal with children like yours it is how they deal with children whose families can't or won't provide the same level of support. Acknowledging the behaviour crisis, removing the hideously limiting accountability targets and raising our apsirations of working class children would be a good place to start.

JimC's picture
Sun, 09/10/2011 - 10:52

1. Passmores (educating Essex) is an academy Janet. Maybe this website ought to consider removing its scaremongering about academies and inclusion since Vic Goddard is pretty much against it.

2. Every time I see a classroom in educating Essex I can't help but notice that there isn't much evidence of trendy teaching methods. I love it.

3. I agree with you that it certainly isn't wise to judge schools merely on their exam results. Perhaps the LSN will reconsider using examination results as evidence that state schools are 'closing the gap' or are 'better than private schools'.

Guest's picture
Sun, 09/10/2011 - 20:17

I agree Jim that children like mine would be fine anywhere but that is the point that I think Pete and I are making. Some people spend alot of time and energy and cause themselves much anxiety over making a decision about where to send their children for secondary education and the end result is no different from what happened to our children ( ie good results and a place at university)
I don't think there is a behaviour crisis in schools although I agree that disruptive children exist. Society and schools need to help and support these children and their families. I think teachers do have high aspirations for working class children. The majority of children at my offspring's school were working class with no family history of higher education. Many have gone onto university (inc Russell group) encouraged by their teachers and parents. There was a relentless drive through Aim Higher and other schemes to encourage pupils to have high aspirations during the Labour time in office. Sadly Aim Higher has now been axed. Other children were encouraged and supported into apprenticeships since that better suited their interests and talents.
Passmore became an academy I believe Sept 11 so what you see on the programme is not due to it being an academy. I think the reason why people question the Academy and Free School programme on this site is due to the lack of transparency over things like funding , the insisting that new schools can only be academies and the emphasis on free schools which at the moment number only 24 out of ~20,000 schools.
People do use examination results on this site but not exclusively. Private and public schools use results to say that they are better than state schools but you know that is only half the story- of course they are better they have a selective intake either by intelligence, money or class. It is easier to succeed as a school if you can get rid of pupils who will pull down your results. A friend was asked to remove her son from the local prep school because they did not think he would succeed there. ( He was dyslexic)

JimC's picture
Mon, 10/10/2011 - 06:00

"I agree Jim that children like mine would be fine anywhere but that is the point that I think Pete and I are making. Some people spend alot of time and energy and cause themselves much anxiety over making a decision about where to send their children for secondary education and the end result is no different from what happened to our children ( ie good results and a place at university)"

So you are saying you'd have no issue with sending your children to a school where the 5 A-C pass rate including English and Maths is 7%?


"I don’t think there is a behaviour crisis in schools although I agree that disruptive children exist."

People sell books about it, thousands of teachers visit internet forums to discuss it, every teacher I know has experienced it in some form - who are you kidding?

"Society and schools need to help and support these children and their families."

The first step would be to change the accountability standards so that it encourages schools to discipline badly behaved children as opposed to covering up poor behaviour.

"I think teachers do have high aspirations for working class children."

You think that BTEC workskills or OCR Nationals in ICT or ASDAN or health and beauty are aspirational courses for working class kids? Don't get me wrong there is no shame in earning a living but I'm not seeing many private schools lining up to do these courses.

"The majority of children at my offspring’s school were working class with no family history of higher education. Many have gone onto university (inc Russell group) encouraged by their teachers and parents."

Then your school is in the minority as I believe the evidence suggests that the bulk of students in the more prestigious universities are not working class. I've never cared for Aim higher and found it to be one of many schemes that remove children from the one thing that could really improve their lot - lessons.

"Passmore became an academy I believe Sept 11 so what you see on the programme is not due to it being an academy. I think the reason why people question the Academy and Free School programme on this site is due to the lack of transparency over things like funding , the insisting that new schools can only be academies and the emphasis on free schools which at the moment number only 24 out of ~20,000 schools."

I take the point about Passmores becoming an academy and is therefore an unknown quantity - however I never said that what Passmores did well was because it was an academy. I'm not in favour of either model of school organisation as poor academies and schools happen to exist - something the LSN might like to acknowledge a bit more. I agree with you about transparency but that said it is isn't exactly easy to find out information about state schools either. We are a long way from public accountability in this country although I admit this aspect of the academy programme is a step in the wrong direction.

"People do use examination results on this site but not exclusively. Private and public schools use results to say that they are better than state schools but you know that is only half the story- of course they are better they have a selective intake either by intelligence, money or class. It is easier to succeed as a school if you can get rid of pupils who will pull down your results."

This is the attitude I'm talking about when it comes to aspirations. I do wish we'd stop making excuses for children on the basis of money and class.

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 10/10/2011 - 10:33

Guest - international research supports your view that private schools do well because of their intake. The OECD found that in the UK private schools outperformed state schools BUT when socio-economic background was factored in the reversal was true: state schools outperformed private schools. This was confirmed by a recent report by the Institute of Fiscal Studies: a school's output (as measured by exam results) depends on its input (the ability and/or socio-economic background of the pupils). The Education Endowment Fund (EEF) found that many low-performing schools (as measured by government benchmarks) were in fact doing a good job in difficult circumstances. The EEF studied those schools in England which fell below the benchmarks*. It found that there were 1600 schools which didn't achieve the standard, of which 1400 were primaries. There are 16,971 primary schools in England (2010 figures). There are 3,127 secondary schools in England (2010 figures) - the EEF found only 200 which didn't achieve the benchmarks. EEF also found that one third of the below floor primary schools (467) , and more than half (100+) of the below floor secondary schools were within 5% points from the floor standard. So the oft-repeated cries about English state education failing across the board are alarmist.

Regarding discipline, the OECD found that "the majority of students in OECD countries enjoy orderly lessons." That is not to say there isn't a problem: OECD found that a quarter of UK pupils reported a poor disciplinary climate which hindered learning (this is the OECD average). This needs to be dealt with (and we saw how this was achieved at Passmores - and the best way is having strong, consistent leadership). However, talks of a behaviour crisis are not accurate. The Parliamentary Select Committee found that "Behaviour standards in schools are high for the great majority of young people. The misconduct of a few represents a small percentage of the seven million pupils in the school system.”

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/08/school-intake-governs-acad...

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/07/disadvantaged-pupils-do-wo...

http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/18/63/47944912.pdf

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/05/new-study-backs-up-my-feel...

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmselect/cmeduc/516/51...

*the benchmarks are 60% gaining Level 4 in English and Maths at Key Stage 2 in primary schools, and less that 35% of pupils achieving 5 GCSEs A*-C or equivalent (including English and Maths).

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 10/10/2011 - 12:04

Jim C – you are quite correct, there are poorly-performing academies and LA maintained schools (I give the figures for English state-maintained schools in the reply to Guest). The reasons for schools performing poorly in terms of exam results are regularly discussed on this site as you will discover if you trawl through “Views”. However, poorly-performing schools are not necessarily failing ones. The opposite is also true: a high-performing school may be giving its pupils a poor level of education (one Trafford grammar school was failed by Ofsted in 2009).

Your leading question to Guest, “…you’d have no issue with sending your children to a school where the 5 A-C pass rate including English and Maths is 7%?” is extremely likely to elicit the answer, “Yes, I would have an issue with such a low pass rate.” However, the question is based on inaccurate statistics. In 2010 only two secondary schools achieved less than 10% achieving 5 GCSEs A*-C and they have both closed. The third worst (as judged by exam results) in 2010 was Marlowe Academy in Kent with 14%, a school which was given “notice to improve”. However, the article below shows that Marlowe Academy is operating under difficult circumstances with a large number of looked-after children, asylum seekers, refugees and pupils on the autistic spectrum in a county which still operates a policy of selection. Nevertheless the Academy is recognised locally as having expertise in dealing with special needs and the GCSE A*-C pass rate rose to 21% in 2011. A follow-up visit by Ofsted concluded that the school was "making satisfactory progress in addressing the issues for improvement and in raising the pupils' achievement." Poorly-performing it may be, but it is not failing.

There may, of course, be schools whose pass rate was only 7% in 2011 – I’ll leave it to you to find the evidence.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7959129.stm

http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/jun/27/schools-government-gcse-...

http://www.kentonline.co.uk/kentonline/news/2011-1/september/5/marlowe_a...

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 11/10/2011 - 13:17

One of the biggest problems in the formulation of current education policy is that key characters involved in it refer to 'the sharp elbowed middle classes' without realising that the people in this class are not the wisest people in education. Rachel Wolf her thinking along these lines transparently clear in a recent issue of Prospect Magazine.

The idea that some parents don't want what is best for their children to be at the expense of what is best for other children is totally beyond her and other key drivers of policy.

Thanks for the recommendation Janet. :-)

Dapplegrey's picture
Thu, 13/10/2011 - 20:14

@guest 8.17

Can you name a school that selects its intake on the grounds of class?

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