Don't believe what you hear - work with your school and you too can have an outstanding local school

Professor Aneez Esmail's picture
When we first had to make a choice about secondary schools for our first child in 2001, we were concerned. There were local stories about bad behaviour, bullying low standards and poor teaching. We could have afforded to opt out and send him to a fee paying school. However we made a point of visiting the school and talked to staff and checked it out for our selves. The reality we found was totally different from the rumours that we heard. We made a decision to support the school and get involved - taking in interest in developments, working with the teachers and supporting our children. 10 years later, all our children have gone through the school ( the youngest is still there). The two who have now left excelled academically - one is just finishing at Oxford University and the other is hoping to include Oxbridge as one of his University choices. The school has improved beyond expectations. There is a new school building, the children get a well rounded education which includes the performing arts as well as more academic subjects. Results are above national average (starting from being in lowest quartile 10 years ago). And they have a made friends with pupils from all walks of life - it is 'comprehensive' in all aspects. The moral of the story is work with your local school, take an interest (I am now Chair of Governors) in your children's education and you too can help develop outstanding schools such as this. Opting out is the easy option. Everyone benefits from a good local school.
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Shane Rae's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 13:05

I couldn't agree more with the sentiments here. Want a good school? Get as involved as you can! You can make an enormous impact.

Contrary to popular belief, a school's reputation does not come from League Tables and OFSTED reports, it comes from the chatter at the school gates. This is where parents meet and the focus of the banter is the school itself. If there is poison in this forum it will soon echo around the whole of the community. I've seen it happen time and again-a good school whose reputation has been damaged by a the loud (and often uninformed), critical few.

It's a hard truth that part of the role of the Board of Govs is to be the PR wing of a school. Identifying the poison mentioned above, getting to the center of it and turning it around. Often the best solution is to bring your loudest critics onto the Board (although admittedly we've had varying success with this).

Also if good things are going on in the school, make sure local papers hear about it. It's the cynical nature of our media that seeks out the horror stories (true or not) to poke holes in success.

Ros Coffey's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 13:09

Aneez, as a former Ofsted inspector, I cannot agree with you more.It really is essential that parents go into the school and see what it is really like. Frankly you can see, hear, smell, touch and taste a good school - if you got there and could smell cabbage and toilets, hear noise rather than a hum and see signage that always starts with the word DON'T - then you knew it was going to be an interesting visit.

As to listening to local gossip - take it with a very strong pinch of salt and always ask, "how do you know that?" My first inspection was in the Midlands and the LA had told the school that they were going straight into SM. However we discovered that the school was actually rather good and came out back then as a very good school... one of the greatest tests of a school is how it copes in an emergency, whilst we were there a former pupil was murdered and his siblings and those of the boys accused of the offence were all at the primary school. The manner in which this was handled by the SMT was outstanding. Back then the LA was always present when the feedback was given to the SMT & GB, sufficient to say the LA had their cards marked by the RgI about their lack of support for the school.

It is also wise to remember that each school is different as is each child and choose the school to fit your child and their aspirations rather than imposing your own upon them.

Joseph Makin's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 14:08

Ros, I am not sure that knowing that the siblings of the boys accused of murdering a former pupil were at a local school is a particularly good selling point (I know your real point is about how the SMT handled it). It feeds the fear many of us parents, wrestling with whether or not to opt out have, that we don't want our children to mix with those from backgrounds that would commit a murder (OK, I'm making a big assumption here - but these fears are not of course that rational).

Ros Coffey's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 14:30

You will note that I said that they were accused not prosecuted, sometimes the Police too, make assumptions.

Shane Rae's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 14:44

I think a key plank in the 'save local state schools' platform is the very positive results of children from all walks of life working/growing/learning/sharing together.

Ben Taylor's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 19:58

Dear Prof Esmail

I sincerely say congratulations but I would like to ask you if you work at the most local academic institution and if Oxford was the most local university to your children.

If you lived in Luton would you be happy for your children to go to that particular university?

I have no wish to attack your choices and success in supporting your children and community, rather I wish to understand why selection is wrong at 11 and perhaps 16 but ok from around 18 for places like Oxford.

Rosemary Mann's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 20:43

This is a very inspiring thread - so I'll try hard not to bring it down! - but seriously, this is what I would say to critics of state schools who seem to want to throw the baby out of the bathwater and start up a free school as a seeming alternative. I do know one key supporter of such a proposed school who has stated that her experience of the parents of a state school where her child went wasn't very positive and they were hardly worth bothering about as they were not interested in changing anything. That formed the impetus to campaign for a free school. I found that a shame that that person turned their back on their childs existing school just because of initial poor feedback and a perception of lack of interest in doing something. I also found it hard to believe that there weren't a hard core of parents who wanted to make things better.

It's hard work but parents are still the main influence on their childrens educational outcomes so they do need to be encouraged to become involved in their children's education. However it isn't necessarily easy and it can be hard to motivate certain sections of the population but it is surely worthwhile to work with existing schools and existing parents to improve things. I know a few parent governors of local schools who are extremely committed and passionate about their school and working together to improve the experience and outcome of their own children and other peoples. I think that can offer a really good protection against failure and mediocrity.

There are two schools in my borough that I find interesting, one has all the standard ofsted stuff and rave reviews, the other good but less razzamatazz. When I visited both I was surprised to find that I preferred the more low key school as it felt 'happier' and a better place to be. The educational outcomes may not have been as good but reading between the lines I felt it was much better than the other school for my child. I felt more at ease with the Head and the staff there than I did at the other 'excellent' school.

I therefore endorse what is said here about local opinion rather than just going by formal results or awards. How many of us have worked in 'investors in people' organisations only to find they are anything but!

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 11:33

Ben asks why, if students can select Oxford as opposed to, say, Luton, then why is selection wrong at 11. I can remember when the whole country had the 11+. In those days about 25% of eleven-year-old boys (and fewer girls) were selected by grammar schools. The rest were selected to go to secondary moderns (or technical schools when they existed). Most secondary modern pupils left school at 15 with no qualifications.

The schools did the selecting not parents. Parents may have wished their child to go to a grammar school but wishing alone was not enough. It was for this reason that so many middle-class parents campaigned for a fully-comprehensive system and why this policy was followed at the time by the Conservative party. The Secretary of State for Education who signed more closure notices for grammar schools was one Margaret Thatcher.

Selection at eleven was believed by many to be wrong because eleven was too young to make a decision which would affect the child for the rest of its life. The system disadvantaged late-developers and summer-born children.

Selection at eighteen is different because the students are adults who have made decisions about future careers and are, therefore, looking for an institution that best caters for their needs. However, it should be remembered that it is not the student making the selection - it is the university. The student can apply but is not guaranteed a place.

Shane Rae's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 12:41

I take Ben's point completely but he is asking a much wider fundamental question about selection-much wider than the scope of this site-which is concerned with schools.

For example, I think the notion of piling people into Universities on the misguided notion that a university education is a right and therefore all should take up this right is absolutely ludicrous. But it's a digression beyond the 'Local Schools Network'.

Supporting your local school is about securing the basics. Of course, I'm in no way a spokesman for this site.

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