My story is proof that state schools are better than the private sector

Francis Gilbert's picture
The publication of the Key Stage 2 results of the tests taken by 11-year-olds this May has resulted in the customary "state school" bashing in the press. The Daily Mail claims that the brightest pupils are being failed by primary schools, while The Telegraph has pointed out that one in three pupils have not mastered the basics by the time they've left school. But the crucial fact to remember is that overall, standards have gone up massively since I started teaching in the 1990s. Standards have risen immensely since they were introduced, with 49% of pupils getting a level 4 (the expected level) for English in 1995, whereas this year 81% attained a Level 4 or above. Furthermore, achievement amongst the brightest pupils has risen dramatically, contrary to what you read in the Mail. In 1995, only 7% of pupils achieved a top Level 5 in English (above the expected level) whereas this year it was 29%.

I have to say that I'm delighted with the progress my son made at his local state primary school, Columbia Primary in Tower Hamlets; this May he achieved top levels in all his SATs -- as did many other pupils, from all sorts of different backgrounds, in his class. He had a superb teacher who not only drilled the pupils in the basics, but most importantly made these subjects fun. In particular, he's motivated to study Maths in a way that he never was when he went a private school. A few years ago, disappointed with the progress he was making at the private school he was attending, my wife and I pulled him out and put him in the local primary school. He was tested when he entered the local primary school as "average" in the basic subjects; he's now progressed to be well above the national average. My personal story is an illustration that the notion that private schools are better than state ones is a myth; on the whole, state school teachers are better trained and much better at motivating children than teachers in the private sector, many of whom are untrained and have little idea of how children learn.

I am particularly annoyed with the suggestion that state schools don't stretch the brightest pupils. This just wasn't the case with my own son and the other bright pupils at his school. He's had nothing but constant stimulation at his local primary and within the borough generally; he's participated in numerous clubs and the local music service, THAMES, where he has learnt the bassoon and played in the Borough orchestra. His reading skills are good because he's constantly been pushed in class to read challenging texts.

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Nigel Ford's picture
Wed, 03/08/2011 - 10:48

And you save a stack of money as well so a win-win situation.

Hopefully, the next stage of his journey at the local comp which will be just as productive.

Alan's picture
Wed, 03/08/2011 - 11:37

From personal experience I can say that teaching standards in state primary schools vary enormously, at least in our area. The school my daughter first attended hadn’t opened up to range of abilities, SEN and disabilities so were ill prepared to identify a difficulty she was having with numeracy (which is all too common in children born prematurely). Her transfer to secondary school was shambolic to say the least, but it did at least help us to target support – she’s now top set Y10. I wasted no time in taking our other daughter out of this school, and despite her poor start, the alternative school has helped her to reach national standards. However, I have no doubt in my mind that we could have achieved more if standards had been in place to begin with.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 03/08/2011 - 13:56

The link to the Daily Mail showed an article written in 2008. I couldn't find a Daily Mail article commenting on the SAT results for 2011, but they did report fairly on the poor quality of marking in mid-July:

SATs should be abolished - they blight Year 6. The OECD has expressed its concerns about the emphasis on test scores in England believing it can result in teaching to the test, grade inflation and teachers' neglecting other important skills.

OECD also found that when socio-economic factors are accounted for, UK state schools perform better than privately-managed schools.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 03/08/2011 - 17:45

I take your point Alan (and J) that standards can vary a great deal, although I do think they've by and large got better, as evidenced by the rising achievement across the country. Yes, personal anecdote will always be personal, but personal stories contain powerful truths that can lead to generalisations at times. But I leave people to decide whether they want to take a "generalisation" from my story -- or not. I am not sure SATS should be abolished. I think they're a better test than the OECD ones for English at least.

Alan's picture
Wed, 03/08/2011 - 19:52

Francis, I share your views on personal experience and would come back to it in an instant, trouble is, I’ve spent far too long arguing the value parental testimony and being refuted that eventually I conceded to study statistics, but only, to be taken seriously. I would rather have spent more time with my kids.

Generalisations become more powerful truths when we choose to ignore them.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 04/08/2011 - 06:58

It may be true that generalisations can reveal a truth - but they can also do the opposite, for example when discipline problems shown by a minority of pupils are portrayed as a sign of a "broken system". The difficulty with anecdotes is that they are not verifiable. However, that doesn't mean they should always be ignored. If a properly-conducted survey, for example, found that a majority of respondents were providing the same anecdotal evidence, then this could reveal a problem. Alan makes a valuable point - that to be taken seriously you need evidence which carries weight.

JimC's picture
Thu, 04/08/2011 - 05:59

I'd question whether the KS2 SATs results are an accurate measure of student progress.

Alan's picture
Thu, 04/08/2011 - 12:07

“My story is proof that state schools are better than the private sector” is rather a bold statement :)

Francis Gilbert's picture
Sat, 06/08/2011 - 22:28

It is a deliberately provocative statement! At the moment, KS2 results are all we have to go on; yes they are a blunt instrument (obviously there are errors made), but they give a "generalised" picture of the way things have gone.

JimC's picture
Sun, 07/08/2011 - 20:54

KS2 SATs might be all we have but as far as being a gauge of progress I think they are inaccurate because I don't think we can have a system for assessing student progress and the quality of teachers/schools simultaneously and not expect some schools to game the system - clearly my scepticism indicates that I think the practice is widespread. I suppose the question is how many schools are actually doing it and to what extent. Anyway I guess this is all beside the point and one cannot discount your own experiences with your son based on scepticism about schools approaches to SATs examinations. I share your annoyance about the medias stereotyping of state school and private school teachers.

Andy's picture
Thu, 25/08/2011 - 12:02

One story is an anecdote.

'Proof' is something entirely different.

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