There is a snobbery in our area where schools in the wrong area are shunned due to out-dated information and myths.

Nathalie Hales's picture
I live in an area where there are many schools close by. I discovered when applying for a reception place that I lived 50 yards further away from the school that I expected my daughters to go to (and where the eldest was at nursery) than my nearest school that I had never heard of and never seen as it is in the middle of a council estate, tucked behind an adult education centre away from any other reason to head that way.

We got a place there, I went to visit, it seemed small and friendly, The children were all behaving! The stories I then heard about the school were then frightening. We went there anyway, a few of the other parents in that situation decided to go down the private route. Within a week my daughter was loving it, at the end of the term we had to make a decision as to whether we wanted to stay on the waiting list for the other school. My daughter said that she was happier at the new school so that's where we stayed. For certain, she had a mixed bag of children in her class, but, that has grown her into a very tolerant and accepting child. Ironically she is at her local secondary school and back with some of her nursery friends and I am delighted that she is more than able to keep up with them and is doing really well at school. Although I thought that she was always doing well, it was nice that it was confirmed that really going to the more popular/successful/ outstanding school may not have made a difference! My other daughter is coming up to that age too and is also doing well! I became a governor in order to support the school and help them address the challenges, the I have recently given that up as my youngest is in hospital long term, but, any help that I can give them I will continue to do so!
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Michele -Lowe's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 09:42

The country needs more parents like you. I live in Abergavenny and volunteer one afternoon a week to help with the reading in one of our local primaries, the one people warned us we wouldn't want to send our kids to. It's a lovely school with a real mixed bag of kids and an excellent head. I also volunteer in our local Welsh-medium school to do the same (I'm a Welsh speaker). This is where my kids went to school and I've also been really happy with it. Again, a really strong head teacher. To be frank, there's no real difference I can see between the two and their intake. But the myths that surrounded the schools when we moved here 14 years ago would have told you otherwise. The old myths die hard.
I do believe the personal is political. When parents chase provision outside of their catchment what kicks in often is an overestimation of the new, sought-after school and an equal and opposite attitude hardens against the one they've rejected.
The more voices piping up in support of their local schools, the better. (Thanks all on LSN for banging the drum and especially Janet for her sheer dogged persistence in nailing the facts).

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 09:52

Michele - thanks for the comment about 'nailing the facts'. This was why Mellissa and I decided to write our book: School Myths: And the Evidence that Blows Them Apart. We were disturbed by the way some heavily-promoted education myths had become accepted as 'truth'. This site, our book and other books or articles written by our founders and contributors are, we hope, joining the ever-growing band of people, parents and pupils who are angered at what is happening to education and how we've been misled.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 10:56

Natalie - You are so right. There is an interesting article in today's Independent advising caution in relation to 'Outstanding Schools'.

I have long argued that such schools are risky choices. Some of the reasons are given in the article. Other concerns relate to how the status was obtained. Quite a lot of such schools appear to have suffered large reductions in their 2014 GCSE results.

A good school addresses the developmental needs of each individual child. So far as each child is concerned the fact that other children will be at different developmental stages is irrelevant. The nature of the mix in terms of children may well affect aggregate performance of the school at KS2/GCSE but this is not necessarily related to the developmental progress of each individual child.

You are also right to have regard to the attitude of your children to school. Happy, engaged pupils tend to make good progress.

My granddaughter attends a school that 'Requires Improvement'. It has a brilliant head and in my view is excellent. She loves school and astonishes me with the breadth of her experiences, the variety of learning approaches, the depth of her understandings and her undimmed curiosity and willingness to try different approaches to solving problems.

If only more parents would follow your example.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 11/02/2015 - 10:02

Nathalie - thanks for this positive story. I would like to see more parents and governors publishing their stories here. The more we hear about the positive things going on in all our schools the better.

Barry Wise's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 08:59

There can be a conflict between the ideal of the local school and the ideal of a comprehensive intake. Particularly in urban settings you find that social housing is concentrated in pockets of deprivation, while the affluent live surrounded by more affluence. What results are local schools that are skewed either towards high FSM + low CATS or low FSM + high CATS scores. To some extent this is mitigated by having parents seek out 'better' schools. But to some extent it is aggravated by that too. The consequent social segregation is hard to undo. How do you, for instance, persuade a middle-class parent to send their daughter out of the safety of a low-crime near their home to a deprived area which the media portrays as a place full of knife crime and drugs? Hard sell. Impossible really. It's easy to see why the 'local schools' slogan is appealing to many in middle-class areas. The challenge is to make it workable/appealing in more challenging settings.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 10:22

Barry, you are absolutely right, but the solution has been found in Hackney through the uniform LA-wide secondary school admissions system based on CATs-driven banded admissions. In Hackney most of the secondaries are now Academies but they sign up to the LA administered system in which all Hackney children take the CATs in Y6 of primary school.

The example I use in Part 4 of 'Learning Matters' is Mossbourne Academy. Mossbourne has four CATs score defined admission bands that when full produce a school with a CATs ability distribution that matches the national pattern. This means that the local community, which is characterised by severe economic and social deprivation, has a genuinely comprehensive school that offers the full range of academic opportunities on its doorstep. The fact that Mossbourne is located at the centre of this community does not put off applicants from more affluent districts further away. The Hackney system is described at length and in detail in my book.

High CATs scoring local children have access to the highest bands and are guaranteed admission.

The downside for the local community is that large numbers of local children whose CATs scores entitle them to admission to the lower bands can't get in because those bands are hugely oversubscribed.

But Hackney is a densely populated urban borough, so alternative schools are not far away. In other areas where there are banded admission Academies, the neighbouring LA schools are flooded with the banded Academy's low CATs score rejects, while their own local high CATs score children are lured into the higher bands of the Academy.

However, in Hackney's LA-wide system this can't happen because the neighbouring schools have banded admissions too. This enables them to turn away excess low CATs score applicants when their lower bands are full, so there are no sink schools.

Before the 1988 Education Act took away their powers, LEAs (including ILEA) sought to achieve a similar outcome to banding by engineering catchment area boundaries.

Henry Stewart explained the advantages of the Hackney system in his LSN post of July 2011, which is reproduced as section C4.11 in my book.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Thu, 12/02/2015 - 16:09

This BBC News story is also relevant.

'Pupils in some areas are not offered vital GCSEs'

The first serious research I was involved in after I retired from headship in 2003 was sponsored by TES. With my statistician colleague. Roger Davies, we worked with (then) TES journalist Warwick Mansell to find out what was really going on at the schools that achieved spectacular improvement in their GCSE results over a four year period. The results were featured in the TES of January 2006 and described in our paper, 'Curriculum change and School Improvement', which was published on the TES website.

This is described in detail in Part 3 of 'Learning Matters'. This is an extract from Section 3.1

Our second finding concerned provision of courses in science, European languages and history. We found a tendency for GNVQ science to replace GCSE science to such an extent that in some of the most improved schools no pupils took GCSE science courses at all. We showed that ‘school improvement’ was also linked to poor provision and take up of European languages and history and that the ‘most improved’ schools tended to have the most impoverished curriculum in terms of pupil access to these subjects.

Our TES paper is longer freely available on-line, however I used the data and the charts that summarise it in my paper How Academies Threaten the Comprehensive Curriculum (2008). This can be studied and downloaded from the 'Forum' website. The link to Volume 50 where it can be found is

As well as for the ‘most improved’ schools, we carried out the same exercise on a control group of 60 schools chosen from the same Local Authority areas but having recorded no gains in %5+A*-Cs in the previous four years. The average performance of these schools is shown by the broken lines on the charts. These show that access of pupils to a full broad and balanced curriculum was increasingly constrained the greater the degree of ‘improvement’ in the school.

Our third finding concerned the problems we encountered in obtaining curriculum information from schools. We believed the issue of curriculum entitlement to be important and that parents and the wider community should have had access to information about the range of examination courses available in schools, which subjects were compulsory, which were optional, and the restrictions that were placed on subject choice. There should also have been full disclosure of the examination entries and results in each subject.

Despite being able to call upon the administrative resources of the TES and the Freedom of Information Act (FOI) we had difficulty obtaining this information from many schools. Unwillingness to disclose curriculum information and subject-by-subject exam results was strongly linked to the degree of ‘school improvement’. The ‘most improved’ schools tended to be the most secretive.

I have been researching school improvement, real and apparent, since 2003 and this remains the case. It remains difficult to obtain detailed information about the Key Stage Four curriculum and exam results in many of the ‘most improved’ schools including those judged to be ‘outstanding’ by OfSTED.

For many schools serving poor areas there is a mean cognitive ability deficit in intake cohorts. Such schools are often not looking to be become 'outstanding' so much as to avoid being judged 'inadequate'. This is a 'high stakes' world.

Despite all the changes resulting from the Wolf Report there is still scope for maximising C grade pass rates by manipulating the curriculum and various forms of gaming and 'teaching to the test' approaches. The result is the phenomenon described in the BBC News item. This disadvantages all the pupils that attend such schools.

This provides another example of the success of the Hackney CATs driven LA wide admission system. All schools have sufficient numbers of able pupils to be able to run a full academic curriculum.

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