I came across this article
on the BBC website and it made me think.
Underlying this story are two important factors. First, Ashington High School Sports College was placed in special measures in February, following their most recent Ofsted inspection. Second, also recently, the school seems to have begun working as part of Partners in Exellence club schools (PiXL), to help raise standards.
PiXL was founded by former headteacher, Sir John Rowling, with the express aim of helping schools to work together with a shared sense of moral purpose. This is what PiXL has to say about its aims:
“The PiXL Club, Partners in Excellence, works with over 1000 secondary schools, 400 Sixth Forms, 40 PRUs and 170 Primary Schools. Our focus is on raising standards at GCSE, A level and Key Stage 2. The PiXL Club aims to support the promotion of excellence for pupils. It is determined to do all it can to improve life chances for young people through improved educational achievement and enhanced self-esteem in order to connect them to worthy progression routes in the next stage of their education.”
In case you were left in any doubts, they sum up their raison d’etre – “At the heart of PiXL there remains the moral imperative to do the best we can for all students whatever their ability.”
Note what it says about enhanced self-esteem for all students. How then, does this statement and the obvious intention of club members to help students achieve higher grades square with the recent actions of the SMT at Ashington High School that have caused such a sharp reaction from parents?
What has happened here creates other questions that also need to be answered.
Has the recent inspection outcome created so much pressure that professional judgements at the school have been skewed? Did the school’s performance under the watchful eye of Ofsted precipitate a ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to their predicament? How happy should we be that pupils are named in this manner? Does applying this particular procedure have the inevitable consequence of ‘shaming’ certain groups and individuals?
If this is the case, should someone be preparing to monitor the impact on pupils? How certain can we be that some of the techniques employed to raise the performance of pupils are aimed primarily at making the schools look better? I could go on.
Meanwhile at Ashington, after receiving complaints from some parents about the poor timing of a specific strategy to engage students more by focusing on ‘transparent communication’, a school spokesman made the following comment -
“One of the strategies PiXL has introduced has focused on transparent communication with students ensuring they are aware of their relative ability levels prior to entering examinations.
“The intention is then to provide whatever support or resource each individual student requires in order to achieve improvement.
“We understand this is an innovative approach and may not be something parents experienced for themselves in school.
“At Ashington High School we want what is best for our students and their welfare is our priority. We always encourage parents and students to share feedback with us which we use to inform our future strategy.”
Clearly, despite the school’s good intentions, and knowing the positive impact that transparent communication can have in all sorts of settings, this spokesman does not appreciate that parental concerns are well founded and I have to say I agree with them. Surely, the point is not that “this is an innovative approach and may not be something parents experienced for themselves in school.” – which sounds very patronising in itself. It is rather that choosing to implement this particular approach so close to the actual examinations has, in the words of one parent, knocked the confidence of those who fared poorly in the assessment of their exam potential “By launching this only last week the school hasn't given these children enough time to improve their performance. All it has done is wreck their confidence,"
Another point made by the school in its defence seems to be that the introduction of this particular strategy enables staff “to provide whatever support or resource each individual student requires in order to achieve improvement.” You can really do this in the time scale we seem to be talking about??
But, sadly, it isn’t just the lower ability students who appear to have suffered as a result of this belated move to ‘up the ante’ over grades by publishing, albeit in-house, a list ranking students in ability from top to bottom.
“Everybody could see where everyone was on the table,” said one parent. “My daughter knows the pupil who was ranked number one and friends she has known for years are now saying she thinks she’s better than everyone else.
“It’s all down to this ridiculous ranking system the school introduced last week.
“It was very public my daughter tells me. Around 249 children were taken to the old caretaker’s bungalow where their names were all up on a notice board.” (See here
Now, I don’t expect there to be a universal outcry about this story BUT, as far as I am concerned, it raises some very basic and important questions about the possible direction and specific focus of school improvement.
Even if ALL school leaders do know what is best for their students, shouldn’t they be expected to implement, with care, only those strategies, after careful consideration, that they are pretty confident will work in their setting given sufficient time?
Are we really to believe that the end justifies the means? Do we really want to see a return to the practice of posting all children’s results for everyone to share (I remember the weekly class spelling charts in primary school with some discomfort still)?
I am for raising the bar for all children but, I do wonder how many strategies currently used to achieve this outcome would still be in place if we ended the current, insane practice of ranking school against school, nation against nation? Is what has happened at Ashington High an indication of where this system will lead if we do not abandon the frequent application of high-stakes testing?
has a very thoughtful piece giving further background on PiXL. I believe they offer opportunities for the kind of networking that can help schools develop in the future, especially if politicians do the right thing and ‘but out of education’, as I am calling for at,