A Tale of Two Primary Schools

Paul Atherton's picture
I read in the Evening Standard yesterday an article entitled "A tale of two primaries - why does one school fail where another succeeds?" .

It compares Petts Hill School in Ealing with Thomas Jones Primary in Notting Hill, two schools in London which appear to be at opposing ends of the scale.

One successful, one seemingly not so.

I believe both schools are state schools and was interested in readers views on the situation.

The headmaster seems to be advocating every school should be open to adapting itself to the community it serves.

Which would appear to be in keeping with the Free School ethos within state schools?
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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 01/06/2011 - 10:57

The question is not "which would appear to be in keeping with the Free School ethos within state schools". In fact, that question is irrelevant. The real question is: should schools be judged merely on SAT results? The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) would suggest not, and in its 2011 Economic Survey of UK advises the government to devise more sophisticated ways of judging schools.

The article compared two schools - and the following comments throw light on the apparent success (as measured by SAT results) of one over the other:

1 Petts Hill (the one judged less successful) has 81% of pupils with English as a second language (ESL), Thomas Jones (the one judged successful) has 60%.

2 The key difference between the two schools is pupil turnover. At Petts Hill 50% of pupils leave before Year 6, and the same proportion arrive. Many of these are newly-arrived in England and are unable to speak English. At Thomas Jones mobility is not an issue as very few pupils leave once they have been offered a place. The head of Thomas Jones said it was "very challenging" to educate children in a community that is always changing (as it is at Petts Hill).

3 Both schools take a different approach to teaching literacy but the head of Thomas Jones said the school's methods can't be a "blueprint for every other primary" as a successful literacy programme in one school won't necessarily be appropriate in another.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 01/06/2011 - 11:17

The most interesting but obvious conclusion about this Evening Standard article is the impossibility of imposing a prescribed formula for every school to improve results without taking into consideration the pupil intake of the school – demographics, cultural mix, turnover, migration, parent involvement. It’s a hugely complex mix which is why SATS or other results should not be the sole barometer to measure a school’s success and it certainly should not be a stick with which to beat it’s staff or to question its ethos.

On the surface, both schools are presented as being challenged in the sense that they have a high percentage of pupils on FSM but the differences between them appear more profound. Petts Hill has a problem of a large percentage of children leaving before year six and many only arriving for the final (SATS) year as well as children arriving from outside the country unable to speak or understand English. The Notting Hill school does not have these additional and serious challenges so it is no surprise that it is able to implement an effective teaching programme geared towards the ability of it’s intake.

The Notting Hill school therefore does not face the challenges of the Petts Hill school so the successful formula in place at Notting Hill would not work at all in Petts Hill and I think the head has the generosity to realise this.

What is heartbreakingly clear in the article is that Petts Hill needs much more support and investment to tackle and eradicate many of it’s challenges. It needs greater care by the local council to ensure that when families are moved, they are housed in greater proximity to the school and that when new children join, they are given more support with English and reading.

An increase in financial help from the government is what Petts Hill needs. This would help to pay for better resources to provide more individual English teaching for example. However, present government policy is to abandon struggling maintained schools and instead spin the fallacy that academies and free schools are the virtually guaranteed answer to improving standards in every single school. This is a fallacy because free schools promise many things (including smaller class sizes) but have yet to open their doors to actually educate and a number of Academies themselves have failed. One in the North East has just been bailed out – again – at the tune of £5m. I bet Petts Hill wouldn’t have minded some of that and seen their SATS improve but they are not a flagship Academy and probably not on the government’s radar.

There is a myth, peddled everywhere including around this site ad nauseum by free school supporters that the ethos of Free Schools is so amazing and so radically different from that of any LA maintained school, that they merit a level of awe and wonderment that immediately has the effect of wiping out the achievements or strengths of maintained schools and that the future lies in squeezing the life of what we have in favour of what might be. What might be will still have to face the challenges of serving a local community which has the sort of disadvantages or problems that impact greatly on school life and results.

What Paul Atherton should be asking is why the government is not using its financial and political resources to help schools like Petts Hill to meet it’s challenges effectively and support it with practical help and advice with a view to drastically improving at the very least the level of English expected at the school to get good SATS results. What is unhelpful and catastrophic to Petts Hill is this culture, encouraged by the government, of school bashing and creating a two-tier system of education where some schools are written off, dilapidated, abandoned and others are promoted as the second coming. How many children could a free school take from Petts Hill? What about the ones left behind – are they left to rot, any aspiration crushed with the promise of nothing more than a life of state dependency and despair? What happens to those vulnerable children? What happens to the community then? It will probably fracture into a “them and us” conflict. How would the free school overcome the challenge of children unable to understand English? In some American Charters, they covertly de-select them, or exclude them if they don’t hit targets. Will this happen here?

We can’t go on ignoring the fact that free schools and Academies are being offered up as the key to social mobility, to aspiration. What none of their supporters will admit is that they are also marking out a demarcation line of segregation. And segregation is ugly, brutal, dehumanising and uncivilized.

Georgina Emmanuel's picture
Wed, 01/06/2011 - 15:11

I do not know Petts Hill primary school in Ealing but offer the following general comments about pupils with English as an Additional Language (EAL):

Research into secondary school EAL pupils has shown that it takes around two years for pupils to become reasonably fluent in conversational English, but between five and seven years for pupils to catch up in their academic studies with their English speaking peers. Even allowing for the fact that primary school education is more context embedded, I cannot imagine that the situation is hugely different for primary school pupils.Thus, EAL pupils need dedicated staged English language teaching from specialist EAL teachers if they have any hope of making the grade in our schools. They also need teachers who have a good level of understanding of the cultural/educational context of the pupils' prior education and experiences.

Even though numbers of EAL pupils in primary and secondary schools have increased yearly (presently the number is around 16% in primary schools and 11.6% in secondary schools) there is currently no statutory framework for EAL pupils' education in our schools. Thus, EAL pupils have to follow the National Curriculum, often with no additional targetted English language lessons or in-class support, even where they do not speak a word of English. Furthermore, some of these children have received no prior education of any sort back home; so they enter schools like Petts Hill unable to read or write in any language.

After sitting in classrooms where they may not be able to access anything at all, these pupils often go home to families where, even if a parent has some knowledge of English, this may not be enough to grasp the requirements of the National Curriculum or the teaching styles so that they can guide their children through their homework. There may also be no access to a computer or even a dictionary.

In terms of assessment, according to the National Association for Language Development in the Curriculum (NALDIC) there is still no 'theoretically informed and empirically validated assessment' scheme that could operate alongside the National Curriculum Assessment system and cater for these pupils' distinictive leaning paths. Thus, these pupils remain hugely disadvantaged in all assessment exercises.

To make matters worse, the small amount of funding available through the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant, to help schools provide some specialist teaching or support for these children, is no longer ring fenced. One conseqence of this is that nearly 70% of LAs surveyed by NALDIC and the NUT, are either deleting posts or making redundancies.

A further problem facing schools is the lack of initial teacher training teachers receive in order to work with EAL pupils. Thus, many teachers freely admit that they are often not prepared for the challenges facing them when they have EAL pupils in their classes. Senior management and Heads also do not need to demonstrate any EAL knowledge when they apply for senior posts or headships.

Understandably then, there are schools that are already attempting to find loop holes in the admissions code that allow them to covertly exclude many of these pupils (or re-direct them) when they apply to join their schools. Apart from the obvious consequences to these pupils' education and future careers, they are also, unfortunately, acquiring the stigma of being a 'problem'.

Finally, to the blogger called Ben who was shocked at the large numbers of pupils "not born of English parents" in the two primary schools featured in he Evening Standard artcle and was moved to write " What is going on here?" these children are in the UK and therefore deserve the same quality of education that is available to all of our children.

What is of deep concern is what is going to happen to these children as schools start to turn them away?

Roya's picture
Sat, 22/10/2011 - 18:13

I go to petts hill and I am in y6. That school is amazingly brilliant and helps you through everything in learning, also,every single student in the past has got a 5A+ FOR SATS, that's why petts hill is better and this year we are going to get 5 too!

Lawand's picture
Thu, 03/11/2011 - 17:25

Hi Im lawand and im thinking you are lying
Petts hill did not get the best thing out of them in the exam but im sure the next year which is y6 now are fantastic!

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