Is the tide turning now that the Telegraph is celebrating the achievements of local state schools?

Francis Gilbert's picture
I was interviewed a few weeks ago by Julia Llewellyn Smith, a features writer for the Telegraph, who has penned a real rarity these days: an article which points out that the vast majority of state schools are actually rather good. The article may not please all of the followers of this site because it claims that the Free Schools movement and the growth of academies has changed middle-class expectations of the state sector generally. However, I think it makes clear that it's state schools as a whole that have improved. Perhaps one of the ironies of Gove's relentless propaganda about Free Schools and Academies has been that because many parents don't really understand what they are they actually think he's talking about ALL state schools; I've certainly found this talking to some parents. The net effect is that many parents who would have considered only private sector before are now thinking about sending their children to state schools -- whether they are academies, free schools, Voluntary-Aided schools, Voluntary-Controlled schools, Trust schools, Foundation schools or community schools. It's the law of unintended consequences maybe?
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Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 09:42

Thanks for drawing attention to the Telegraph article, Francis. It must have struck a chord with a few DT readers because some of the comments accuse the article of being propaganda and there were the usual cries of “bring back grammars”. Nevertheless, it’s a positive sign when a DT article praises state comprehensives.

A telling point that came out of the article was the important role played by strong heads in turning schools around. This was pointed out by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) as long ago as 2008 when they found that when schools improved they used a range of similar methods including effective leadership. These tactics were found in all improving schools – not just academies.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 09:48

Although the article is positive, the writer of the article (Julia Llewellyn Smith) repeats a common mistake when she said that “A study, published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2010, found that Britain had plummeted down worldwide education rankings, falling behind such relatively poor nations as Estonia and Poland in reading, maths and science.”

The “plummeted down” league tables argument can only be sustained by comparing UK performance with that of 2000 and OECD has said, as regular LSN readers will know, that it has found the 2000 UK figures were flawed and should not be used for comparison. The only years that can be compared are 2006 and 2009 and these do show that UK ranking fell but it didn’t “plummet”.

League table position, however, doesn’t reveal the whole truth. If Ms Smith had looked at the scores for UK, Estonia and Poland, she would have found that the difference in scores in Reading for these three countries is statistically insignificant (p84 link below). The UK score for Maths is on a par with Poland and USA (p85) and in Science UK pupils scored above the average for OECD countries and were in the same achievement band as two Chinese jurisdictions – Chinese Tapei and Macao-China - and Germany (p86). discussed in TES (OECD warning not to use the 2000 figures for comparison is on page 1, paragraph 2)

Melissa Benn's picture
Thu, 22/03/2012 - 10:24

Thanks for posting this Francis - and for doing the original interview. I think it's really interesting - this new focus among the previously privately educating in not just state but comprehensive education. We must view it positively even though the journalists makes lots of the usual elisions and errors common to journalists about state education - one of which Janet has pointed out.

But it does confirm my view that, in some ways, the right's buy in to state education, combined with the stringencies of the economic crisis, could have a positive impact. I was also particularly interested in Matthew Taylor's comments and the mother whose child ended up working in a bar, when she could have saved all that money and sent him to the local school. Between them they express some very important points about ow the old ideas of self interest just don't hold any more.

A final point: I noticed that no-one made much the most important element of a local school; that it is local! Why send your children miles away, to board over night or over a whole week, when they could be near to you, make local friends etc. I have always
suspected that some parents enjoy the freedom from responsibility that boarding allows them! But it has long term costs, I am certain of it, for young people's sense of emotional
well being, particularly children sent away as young as 7. Crazy!

Paul Reeve's picture
Thu, 22/03/2012 - 11:29

"In general, most schools allocate places on the basis of distance from home, and whether a child has siblings there already."
So that helps 'local' schools.

I was told once by someone whose husband was in the RAF that boys were sent to boarding schools at 7 to remove the female influence from their lives so that they would make better officers!

Thank you very much for flagging the article, Francis. I really enjoyed writing it. On the OECD figures I'd just like to defend myself and say I didn't include those in the article - they were added without my knowledge or consent by someone at Telegraph hq, as were a few other sentences and statistics. I suspect they were added to make the piece more "balanced" ie more palatable to the coterie of Telegraph readers, who believe the country is going to the dogs!

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