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.