Why state is best in our community

Jennie Walsh's picture
 22
A number of parents have moved their children out of private schools into our community primary in recent years. In most cases it hasn’t been finances that have driven their decision to abandon private education for Fitzjohn’s Primary in Hampstead. Neither is it just because attainment has been above national standards in reading, writing and maths for the last five years and significantly above in 2011. It is, as more than one parent has told me, because they felt their child would be happier in an environment which values learning and play equally and which enables children to develop independence and their own views and to respect and value the talents of others.

We may not have classes of 12, but we’re still a small school and in any case, as another ex-private parent remarked, small class sizes are not that great when your child has few friends among their classmates.

Effective engagement with parents and carers is a crucial element of the school’s success. The interim report of Camden Council’s Education Commission remarked on how Fitzjohn’s has a range of formal and informal opportunities to engage with parents.

The school’s governing body holds an annual “Fitzjohn’s Conversation” in order to better work with and involve the school community. It’s just one of the opportunities there are for listening to and working with parents and carers. And last year some year 6 members of the School Council joined in too.

Parents were recently treated to a presentation by the maths curriculum leader on how calculation is taught. I was left with no doubt as to why my daughter loves maths and understands the relevance of what she is taught to the real world – something I never really got.

Although Fitzjohn’s is in the heart of well-healed Hampstead, it’s children are from varied backgrounds and the unity and harmony fostered among them is fantastic. It’s just a pity that so many move back into private education when they leave us, which I personally believe denies Camden’s very successful secondary schools some particularly well rounded, confident and high-achieving youngsters who have had the benefit of life in such a great local community school.
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Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 30/01/2012 - 18:56

I cannot understand those parents who choose to be tied to their cars and to drive their children way out of their catchment to primary school every morning and evening.

I watch them go as I walk past their doors - white, ill, sunny days, windy days, always the same. Always tied. Always running up the fuel bill and the carbon footprint.

What is it they are chasing? Here we have proper community - people who care for each other and look after and out for each others kids. The children who stay here are know by all. If a parent is ill 5 others offer to pick their kids up as they walk past. Wrap around care is used much less than people expect because our kids arrange their own social lives and we love having two or three instead of just one home after school.

Some of them are chasing the idyllic school in a village - seeking a kind of community life which ties them to careers as taxi drivers but in which they themselves play little part. Don't they understand children learn from what they see? They learn from their parents?

Gemma's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 11:35

I can't understand a lot of things about people - but isn't diversity wonderful.

Maybe their kids didn't fit into the 'one size fit's all' ethos of the state system. Maybe they just like the uniform of the school they've chosen. Maybe it's smaller. Maybe it has a better music teacher. Maybe they do more play at the school they've chosen?

I think a child could learn a lot from their parents being willing to seek out what is best for their individual needs.

Take off your judgey pants Rebecca and let live.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 13:06

I'm just pondering Gemma and have been doing so in many places - mainly with the people involved face-to-face.

It's strange you think our local primary has a 'one size fits all' ethos? What makes you think that? In fact is has a very well regarded culture which has been influence by the best education thinking over the years without ever losing focus or replacing one system with a new fad. Cherishing diversity and nurturing the way the children value each other as different individuals is very well established from day one.

I wonder why you think there is more play at other schools? It has extended grounds with great outdoor equipment and sensory trails. The curriculum is fully integrated with much creative play. The outdoor curriculum is fantastic and children go away on residentials every year from year 2.

The music at the school is outstanding. The win competitions but, more importantly for me, when you walk past the school during assembly the sound of the whole school singing nearly knocks you over on the other side of the street as all those kids sing with everything they've got.

"I think a child could learn a lot from their parents being willing to seek out what is best for their individual needs." I'm not finding any evidence that that's what's going on. It parents are actually making decisions which they think are right for their own lifestyles and what they imagine they want having never yet had children at school and not having really thought through what the experience is actually like.

I'm very into live and let live Gemma. But I'm also into people being wisely informed about the decisions they make and it makes me sad how poorly informed they are.

Gemma's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 19:47

OK you've missed my point almost entirely.

Of course I know nothing about your primary school. My point is that you know nothing about these people, their lives, their motivations, their children, their experiences and what they and their children want from education - and yet you presume so much.

Why don't you talk to them and ask them about their lives?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 31/01/2012 - 22:35

Gemma, they are my friends and neighbours and I do talk to them.

And its just terribly sad. I'm not telling them off or patronising them. I'm just sad that they're tied to their cars and missing out of the fun of the walk to school and the social interaction between local parents and children and the way that we look out for and care for each other.

Did you not find that you suddenly really felt like you were a full and confident member of your community when your children started at your local primary? Didn't you discover how nice it was to know the people in your area and to be known by them and for your kids to know and grow up with the other kids?

Although the other mums who notch up 380 1/2 hour car journeys a year missing out on all this are my friends we don't discuss it really because what's the point in talking about what they're missing out on? Once your kids are established in a school it's pretty much unthinkable to move them away from their friend and that happens pretty much instantly.

I'm absolutely in favour of parents being able to move their children when the local school is not suiting them or does not fit their particular needs. But what's actually going on is that that some schools are producing glossy brochures which particular play to new parents' inexperienced expectations as to what they think they're going to want to woo them away from their local school. I'm not particularly comfortable with that because this process is fragmenting communities - creating more and more people who live in places where they don't know their neighbours or anyone around them for reasons which aren't really coherent. I'd rather schools were focusing on engaging with the experiences parents actually have when their children are at school and preparing new parents for those experiences rather than on marketing to the experiences those inexperienced parents think they are going to have.

Gemma's picture
Wed, 01/02/2012 - 11:07

I think we can agree that it's great for parents to be able to chose a school to fit the needs of their child.

(I think your view of being part of a community is very city based. In the country everyone gets in cars or the kids get the school bus. In small towns and villages everyone knows eachother anyway. Just saying.)

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 06/02/2012 - 18:19

Hmm, I'm not sure I do agree with you Gemma.

Since these last posts I've been chatting to many people around the area and it seems that really the reason why parents are choosing not to send their children to their excellent local primary and instead to send them to village schools with less credible reputations for meeting individual students needs and lower Ofsted gradings is that they don't want to walk past the council houses around my son's school and they don't want their kids mixing with the kids off the estate.

They are sold by the village schools in wealth areas. I was shocked to see one is avertising travel to it for £1 a day (with subsidies) in our local supermarket today. It must be us the taxpayers who are paying for transport to facilitate fragmentation and the social segregation by class of my community.

This is nothing to do with fitting the needs of children and all to do with marketing to socially aspirational parents. Marketing which again is being paid for by us the taxpayers.

I don't have any political agenda here at all Gemma and I'm not even left wing. I'm just looking around and asking and observing what's going on around me and no, I'm not comfortable with it.

Why do you think it's a good idea that the education budget should be used to create marketing materials targeted at getting socially aspiration parents with no experience yet of having kids at school to take their kids out of their excellent local community schools to not so good schools for reasons of snobbery and to pay for their transport to these schools? Why is a better idea for kids to be educated well away from their homes and communities and to have two bus journeys a day?

This is clearly not a case of parents choosing these other schools because they are excellent schools because the local teachers, who really understand how to assess schools and know the teachers at the different schools, actively choose to send their kids to the local school.

Gemma's picture
Tue, 07/02/2012 - 09:06

Do you believe that it is better for the state to decide where a child is educated or do you believe it is better for the parents to decide where and how a child is educated?

I think the state should be giving parents the widest possible choice of different types of education, and as much real information about how well the different schools teach children (ie not Ofsted... you're an outstanding school because you have the right height of fence... )

andy's picture
Sat, 26/05/2012 - 09:25

Gemma, there are some conversations wherein common sense views and personal opinions are just not considered valid by others. :)

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 08/02/2012 - 11:57

I don't think ideologically Gemma. I'm a pragmatist. If you look at the reality of planning education there is never completely free choice anyway.

The aim of freedom of choice is an important one, especially where it involves the needs of the student being better met. It always needs to be balanced against other aims and needs.

I do not think indulging parents' desires to socially and racially segregate their children from others in their community is an important function of state education. If they want to do that they should pay for it themselves - not with my tax money. I could perhaps be persuaded that it is necessary for this to be allowed to happen to a certain extent in the pursuit of other benefits but I would expect the case to be intelligently and coherently argued.

So I think your question is too general.

RoF's picture
Thu, 09/02/2012 - 12:38

Generally I agree with you Rebecca , but there are a few justifiable exceptions not to go to your local school or even stay within the LEA.

I know of five sets of parents in the last 5 years from my local primary ( which is a great school) who suspected their children were dyslexic from reception onwards but were repeatedly dismissed as pushy middle-class parents who wouldn't accept their child was only "average" or just thick. All 5 had to resort to GP referrals or private testing round about Year 4 or 5 and all came back positive for moderate to acute dyslexia. By then the damage was done including some pretty profound family/sibling/esteem damage as well.

Even after diagnosis the LEA could not offer turn-around coaching as the children weren't "bad" enough" and the performance results could be made to look ok .

Two sets of these parents refused to send their much younger kids to the school reception class and drive 12 miles a day into the next County which has a dyslexia quality mark ; their reaction I think is fully justified.

My child in Year 2 is showing signs of dyslexia but I've learned vicariously that I mustn't waste my time trusting the school to tell me. The Irlan Test is booked as is the free 1/2 hr consultation with Dyslexia Action . I may be shelling out £400 in the next few weeks for a full test. I consider myself very lucky to be in a position where I can afford to investigate and procure support professionally and at home early without eating into the school's limited SEN budget.

However if the test is positive I will be writing my own Learning Profile for him and being the parent from hell in ensuring it is adhered to and his progress monitored if only to get the school to adopt best practice.

Incidentally , credit where credit is due the Dept of Educ is funding a pilot initiative between dyslexia charities to promote awareness and understanding under the name dyslexia-spld and "parent champions". I went on the workshop last week and it was fantastic particularly the empathy exercises. IN fact I was so impressed I almost emailed Mr Gove commending the initiative ( though we have to agree to disagree on Free Schools and Convertor Academies) .

There is also a petition here
http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/news/itt-campaign.html

to make dyslexia awareness a mandatory part of teacher training.

RoF's picture
Thu, 09/02/2012 - 12:49

oops did I say " parent from hell" i meant to say " critical friend" ........[.workshop concilatory platitude training is clearly wearing off!]

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 11/02/2012 - 17:07

In the old days (pre Ofsted) if you wanted to move your child you would have had to consult with the LA RoF.

They would have had a duty to advise you and help you ensure your child's needs were correctly assessed and would be properly addressed by any move made. They would also have a link to local planning - to ensure LA provision was learning from its failures and planning more coherently for the future. They would also prioritise students for places in desirable schools - ensuring those who were being moved for specific educational needs were being prioritised above those who were being moved for parental convenience and that students were not moved where the only reasons given were racial or class preferences.

They also kept a very close eye on admissions numbers to ensure school places and catchment boundaries were planned so that communities could stay intact.

Do you think the current system is better? If so in what ways? I'll give you that it is better at winning politicians votes at the ballot box for starters!

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Tue, 14/02/2012 - 09:16

Sorry Rebecca can we clarify your post above; when you refer to the the "current system" do you mean "dyslexia provision", general admissions protocol or out of term admissions?

I'm talking about the fact an LA school following LA policy and supported by LA experts failed a friends child (and exhibited staggering dogmatic incompetence in the process) .They then chose to cross the LA boundary to a school with the Dyslexia Friendly chartermark when their second child started school. My child is at the first school but I've learnt not to trust the LA and take matters into my own hands if there is a problem. I haven't deserted the school just because they pissed my friend and failed a child.

Did the old system ( when was this) dictate you had to go to your nearest school?

Do you mean that,once long ago in a by gone age , if my friends wanted to move their child from the school that was failing them then they would complain to the LA about why they wanted to move ( i.e abject failure of dyslexia diagnosis by the school ( who are following LA policy) and demonisation of their parenting skills) and the LA would leap into action and make the school change and rewrite their dyslexia funding strategy?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 09/02/2012 - 13:55

Thanks for your example RoF. I would agree that this is one of many clear examples where parental choice is of great value. But it also helps to clarify the difference between parental choice which is to do with the benefit of the child (which is clearly to be supported) and parental choice which is not.

I myself changed schools and travelled out of my area from the age of 10 because my local school was a failing school and I was learning nothing. But that was in the days way before there were any 'freedom of choice' policies. In those days there was simply and understanding that everything would be done to accommodate children who were failing to thrive in their local schools in moving to schools where the reasons why they were failing to thrive were addressed.

There was a procedure whereby you had to be assessed to clarify the issue and ensure the change made was appropriate. But there was also an assumption that unless there was a to a specific benefit to the child from moving they should be educated in their community. Cases where the benefit was for the parents (e.g. parent wanting to send the child to a school which was convenient for parent's work) were also common and were accommodated where possible.

But there was an understood notion that being part of their community was a benefit to a child and I think that is still true and is too often not understood by parents who have not yet raised children through school age. I didn't expect to find this I have to say, but as I ask around about the children in our community who are not going to their local school I am shocked to find that none of them seem to have issues to do with the interest of the child (such as yours) involved RoF. I haven't found one. I haven't even found one who thinks the local school is not a great school. It's just that there is now a cultural assumption that you should choose the school which appeals to you through their marketing exercises most and pay no attention to your child being part of the community that school serves. Being a mum of primary school aged children I see how much they thrive on being part of the community school run. I see the benefits of the conversations I have with the other parents and carers which cover not just our own children but the rest of the people and infrastructure of the society in which we live. I love that I can help children who are struggling with their maths (my skill) while their parents play with my other children and I watch as my children gain so much from the people who care about them locally through interacting with them and learning from their specialist skills and knowledge. I enjoy that they stay for clubs or go round to their friends houses so easily after school and learn different things from other people and can walk home because everything is so close. I like the way we look out for each other when we are ill or struggling for any reason and I like the fact that we know through the overlapping networks when there is a need. I know that my children learn from what I do and they get the opportunity to see me being involved in and caring for the people and infrastructures of our community (with them).

It worries me that the current culture encourages parents not to think about the value of any of these things.

Leonard James's picture
Tue, 14/02/2012 - 09:22

9/10 cats prefer Whiskers says Whiskers.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 19/02/2012 - 08:08

You're welcome to come here and see the things I've described and meet the parents Leonard. I'm sure the school would have you in too. I'm easy to find on Linkedin.

Leonard James's picture
Sun, 19/02/2012 - 08:27

I'm sure whiskers would have me in to meet the cats as well. My point is that the source of these 'state is best' claims isn't an unbiased source regardless of whether they are telling the truth or not - same with the free school 'interest' surveys Janet has been mentioning.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 19/02/2012 - 08:35

Leonard - you seem to believe that the YouGov poll which provided the information about support for free schools is biased. YouGov explain how they maintain impartiality in the Q&As on its website (link below). Please can you provide evidence which shows that YouGov surveys are biased.

http://www.yougov.co.uk/about/about-QA.asp

Leonard James's picture
Sun, 19/02/2012 - 09:01

Janet - to clarify I was referring to the STEM academy survey - the win an i-pad survey.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 19/02/2012 - 09:14

Apologies, Leonard, I thought you were referring to my recent post about the YouGov Poll which found only lukewarm support for free schools. I wholeheartedly agree with you about the lack of impartiality in the STEM Academy so-called consultation survey to gather as many expressions of interest as possible.

Thanks for clarifying.

andy's picture
Sat, 26/05/2012 - 10:07

Jennie, it is always uplifting to learn about state schools that first and foremost provide a fantastic educational experience for their pupils as exemplifed in the case of your school, and even more so when the quality is such that parents with sufficient disposable income choose it over the private sector. This then is a truly wonderful example of how the quality of provision drives choice and not the wallet. Thus if more schools could step up to the plate and achieve the obvious quality that your school does then the private sector has a problem.

I agree that it is a shame that the same parents then choose to return their children to the private sector for the secondary phase. in the same what that some of the urban myths and legends about states schools need to be debunked so to does the perception that all private schools are automatically better. What shouts out loudly in your top comment is that former private parents value the balance between learning and play, which for secondary schools may translate as learning, attainment and personal-wellbeing.

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