My joy that my son is going to the local, much-improved comprehensive

Francis Gilbert's picture
My wife and I learnt today, on National Offer Day, that our son, in Year 6, is going to the local comprehensive in Tower Hamlets, our first choice school. We are both delighted that he's going to the school for several reasons.

Firstly, the school really is "on the up". My son will certainly get a great academic education there: it is among the most improved schools in the country; even Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, wrote to the school to congratulate it upon its academic successes this year. Seven out of every ten children get 5 A*-C grades if they start in Year 7. This is despite the fact that it has 53% of children on Free School Meals -- nearly thirty percent above the nation's average. I have seen for myself that the teachers are absolutely blinding. Quite a few are from Teach First, while others are more experienced; there's a real buzz of energy and innovation about the school that I found really exciting. The staff clearly see the paramount importance of children being "actively" engaged in learning, using games, group-work, discussion, drama and art to bring all the academic subjects to life. Furthermore, the school really tracks pupils carefully, personalising their curricula to fit their needs: parents get termly reports, with children being given specific targets on how to improve.

Secondly, the school really aims to educate the "whole child": drama, music and art are integral parts of their curriculum offer. For example, they work very closely with the fantastic Tower Hamlets Music Service, Thames, which my son already attends, playing clarinet and bassoon in their junior orchestra. The head of Thames enthused about the school to me, telling me how exciting it was to work with a school that's really committed to the arts.

Thirdly, I really feel my son will be safe, healthy and happy there: there's zero tolerance of bullying, and the school puts a big emphasis on children learning to appreciate diversity and difference. Recently, Sir Ian McKellan came to the school to talk about the importance of people making their own choices about their sexual identities. Furthermore, the proximity of the school means that I won't be worrying every day about him travelling for miles to school -- a big weight off my mind.

Fourthly, the school is a Local Authority school which values the opinions and ideas of all the relevant stakeholders. This power-structure filters into all aspects of the school life because it means that everyone feels included. I feel confident that if I have issues then my concerns will heard and dealt with.

Fifthly, I feel I am doing my civic duty in sending him to the school; I am making sure that my son is part of the local community, I am not opting out. I cannot over-emphasize how important this fact is: he will not be shunted off and segregated from local children. We all know that the education systems with the best overall outcomes such as Finland have citizens who really believe in sending their children to the local school, who believe that it is their civic duty to do so.

So tonight, on the eve of National Offer Day, I am celebrating the fact that my local comprehensive is doing so well. I spoke about the importance of parents "buying in" to their local school on Radio 4's Today Programme this morning and stressed the need for some kind of "fair banding" system, administered by local authorities, so that schools get a genuine, diverse mix of local children along the lines of the Finnish model.
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Daniel Hugill's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 21:30

Fantastic news Francis! I can't wait to hear how much he is enjoying it when he starts in September.

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 21:54

It sounds like a great local school Francis - you are very lucky to have been able to make this choice . We have never regretted sending all our children to our closest local schools and they remain passionately loyal to them. My eldest son, now doing a Masters, even goes back to coach the football team four nights a week.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 01/03/2011 - 22:27

Thanks Fiona and Daniel for your support! And yes, Fiona, I am very lucky. I think it's really benefitted from being an LA school and having the wider support of the whole borough in terms of drawing upon lots of other services. The investment that the LA, Tower Hamlets, has put into the school is really paying off now -- but it's taken years of work from all the stakeholders, not least teachers, parents and pupils. Great schools don't just pop up overnight.

Sarah Dobbs's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 11:11

Francis - I am so jealous!
Yesterday I was hoping to feel the same way about my year six daughter. She did get into our local non-selective school around the corner, which is all kinds of brilliant for many of the same reasons that you give. Even though she is heading for level 5 SATS results, I too stuck to my moral guns and refused to enter her for the 11+.
And now here we are, fighting off a proposal to merge five schools into one academy. The opportunity for me to have a non-selective, state education for my children is at great risk. What makes it worse is that we have a local authority who seem to be washing their hands of schools and telling them, at least tacitly, to jump ship into the arms of academy sponsors. I have met with three seperate headteachers this week. None of them are lovers of Gove and the academy scheme. None of them see the academy route as having any educational merit. But all of them are saying - in public meetings and in private - that they will have to leave the local authority before there is no local authority left.
It would be fascinating for me, as part of a local anti-academy campign to get a wider perspective.
Francis - it seems to me that the political will within your local authority is very different to mine. I would be very interested to know whether anyone else seems to have a local authority who seem intent on rolling over so that Gove can tickle thier tummies.

Melissa Benn's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 11:12

Good on you Francis and good luck to your son. Your robust and optimistic stand, on this site, and on the Today programme, yesterday morning, makes a really refreshing change from the negative and covert carping that too often goes on in too many inner city neighbourhoods, including my own.

I was contacted by parent not long ago who asked me to put some information together, informally, to help them prove to nervous or negative primary school parents that our secondary was not a 'failing school' Failing school? What utterly crazy talk. I had no problem providing her with the information she required - outlining just the sort of opportunities and achievements that you have described Francis; lots of inspiring teachers, great extra curricula offers, democratic and open minded head, highly efficient Senior Leadership Team, playing a strong role in the community, rising results, enjoyment and sense of safety among majority of the school pupils. ..etc etc Ofsted judges it as 'good with outstanding features' although the Observer, I notice, now tells us this counts for nothing.

Sadly, the facts make no difference to the (thankfully few) carping parents in my area - many local parents have decided to support our school and will be coming up this year. The others, I presume, will now disperse to independent schools or faith schools or move to Kent or Buckingham for the grammars ( no guarantee of getting in of course) or will have won a music or dance place to somewhere or will move or whatever. Their loss. Tiring daily travel, loss of links with childhood friends.....and no chance to enjoy a rich education near to home.

There is a subtle political and personal agenda going on here, I am afraid, among people who want to run down neighbourhood schools in order to justify their own choices. In a lot of cases, I think the main reason for rejecting the school is the higher than average percentage of children on free school meals...but no-one will ever say that will they? And then they accuse those families who support their local school of being deluded and dishonest and covering up for a failing education system. Watch out for this new line of attack creeping into the political argument. But if those same 'anti's' converted all that bad energy into ' buying into' local schools in a positive manner, and so helping to improve them further, imagine what the school system would be like.......

Ros Coffey's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 11:13

Francis - that is really good news. I know how much the secondary's in TH have come on over the last 20 years. The work that the LA have put in to drive up attainment to say nothing of the work that they have done in raising aspiration has been phenomenal. I am sure that he will be really happy there and come out the other end as a well rounded young man.

Ariana Yakas's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 11:42

As I was reading your post Francis it read incredibly familiar! You describe the inner city school that my three kids have gone to in Manchester! Two of them have now finished there and one has gone on to Oxford (might I say with no private tuition just good teaching from the state sector)!

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 02/03/2011 - 12:41

Thanks for these comments and support. Ros's point about Tower Hamlets is crucial: TH has a policy of fair admissions -- within the parameters laid down by the law -- and appears to be determined to turn around schools that need support. AND IT WORKS! Instead of running them down, denigrating them, it supports them through their difficulties like "critical friend" would. It's a model that Gove MUST realise is the one that works; when schools are isolated, then you get a two-tier system, with switched on parents scrambling for the "top" schools, and the others left to rot. Our children's futures are too important to let this happen.

David's picture
Sun, 20/03/2011 - 03:36

Is the statistic about GCSEs for 5 A*-Cs including English and Maths, or just any 5 GCSEs or equivalents?

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