Let’s praise the excellent work done daily in UK state schools

Janet Downs's picture
Free schools, according to Mr Cameron, are “revolutionising education”. They are “the shock troops of innovation in our education system. They are going to smash through complacency.” The DfE promotes academies as being the only schools that “work”. And in a recent speech the Prime Minister said that an ideology had built up in English state education that “competitive sports are a bad thing.”

If I were the kind of person who believed Government spin I would have been surprised to read in a local paper about recent successes in several state schools, most of which are not academies (yet) and none are free schools. So here is my tribute to the excellent work which is happening in state schools in a small corner of South Lincolnshire and Rutland.

English Martyrs Primary School, Oakham: three pupils won gold, silver and bronze medals in the final of the National Primary Mathematics Challenge.

Langtoft Primary School: set up a peer mediation scheme whereby Year 6 pupils help resolve minor issues that occur at breaktime.

Ketton Primary School: Year 1 pupils visited the William Cecil Hotel, Stamford, after they had spent a term building their own hotel in a classroom. The pupils met staff, designed a high tea menu, and visited Burghley Park through a “secret gate”.

Malcolm Sargent Primary School, Stamford: teacher Nina Spilsbury, science co-ordinator, has received a Primary Science Teaching Award. She was recognised for “injecting enthusiasm and fun into science lessons.”

Queen Eleanor School, Stamford: hosted a primary schools cross country event for 200 pupils from 13 primary schools. The school also organised a lacrosse and hockey competition for 60 pupils from 3 neighbouring primary schools.

Queen Eleanor School, Stamford: Year 7 pupils took part in a week of Fairtrade themed activities including investigating where chocolate originates.

Deeping Leisure Centre: Lincolnshire South East School Sports Partnership co-ordinator, Clare Ladley, organised an indoor athletics tournament for Year 3 and 4 primary school pupils. Ms Ladley had previously been involved in an initiative together with South Kesteven District Council and charity Inspire+ to train young ambassadors from local schools who had been chosen to spearhead their school’s Olympic celebrations.

These activities featured in just one edition of the Stamford Mercury and three of them involved competitive sports. And the final of the country’s largest primary school cross-country league takes place this Saturday, 24 March, at Rutland Water. If the PM thinks this event isn’t competitive then perhaps he should direct Rutland MP, Alan Duncan, to attend – he would find hundreds of primary school pupils from Leicestershire and Rutland who have spent the season training and competing to get to the final. Believe me, Mr Cameron, it’s competitive.

These activities aren’t confined to just one small corner of rural England. They are part of the day-to-day work of thousands of UK schools. So let’s hear more stories like these – celebrate the achievements of UK state schools on the Local Schools Network and show that excellence, vision, enthusiasm, innovation and, yes, competition, is not confined to Mr Cameron’s “shock troops” of free school pioneers.

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Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 20/03/2012 - 15:50


You are very easily impressed. With the exception of the maths challenge, none of the things you have chosen to highlight are particularly special or surprising. They are boilerplate primary school stuff, not "achievements" to be celebrated.

I suspect what worries Mr Cameron is what some primary schools are NOT doing - teaching kids to read & write properly, do sums and so forth.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 20/03/2012 - 16:57

Ricky - you are right. These things aren't special or surprising. They are the kinds of bread-and-butter activities that go on in thousands of schools all over the UK. They are all examples of good schooling and as such should be celebrated. Mr Cameron says schools (apart from free schools and a few academies) are complacent, "coasting", and so on - they need "shock troops" to gee them up. He's wrong. He says that there's an ideology which says that schools don't do competitive sports. He's wrong.

"I suspect" - you're fond of that phrase. But where is the evidence that there are some schools which teach no children to read, write and do maths? Even those which are below-the-floor are not necessarily bad schools - the Education Endowment Foundation 2011 found that many of these schools were doing a good job in challenging circumstances.

All of the schools I have listed should be proud of what they are doing. And your attempt to throw cold water on their work should not undermine their enthusiasm.

Libby Lawson's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 10:35

Ricky if it's evidence of literacy and numeracy you want let me to tell you about the absolutely wonderful work going on every day in my sons reception class. He attends the local community school and every day relishes the day ahead and comes home full of the most fantastic ideas and knowledge. As a family each week we get a brief bulletin -an overview of the week just gone and an insight into the following one so that we can support his learning and prepare him if we can but if we weren't able to do that I would be confident that he is getting the thorough education he and his class mates deserve in school every day. Support staff work in an informed and coordinated way with the class room teacher to best deliver an exciting and stimulating curriculum in an caring environment where every child is really known and is making good progress.
Early last term as the class were becoming accustomed to each other and the teacher, I accompanied the class on a trip to a local bakers. The children were looking out for 'signposts' to the bakery- the teacher had in advance photographed postboxes etc along the route so the children would be alert and aware of where they were going. We walked along a road which I referred to as 'bumpy Bickersteth' (the name of the road) when one of the pupils turned to his partner and said 'hey that's alliteration' -not bad I thought coming from a 4 year old. When I asked who had told the about alliteration the group said their 'teacher of course' and they went on to give further examples 'she tells us everything!' one child enthused.
The pupils and their families trust in their teacher and this leads to the most wonderful learning opportunities for the children. This is how it should be, I couldn't ask for anything more.

The school is not without its difficulties but I am confident none of them would be resolved if the school was to convert to an academy.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 10:48

Libby - thanks for that example of great work being done in your son's reception class. It's typical of what occurs in thousands of primary schools and as such it should be celebrated.

It's a shame that this Government doesn't highlight the stirling work that is done in the majority of state schools. Instead it focusses on the negative, propagates myths (such as there being an ideology against competitive sport) and praises only a small group of schools.

Libby Lawson's picture
Wed, 21/03/2012 - 18:25

Janet -it's great to be able to share evidence of excellent practice in community schools

Ricky -just what is it you imagine free schools and academies to do so differently?
Can you highlight some of their 'particularly surprising or special' 'achievements' to be celebrated?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 22/03/2012 - 12:28


I am delighted to hear that your son has learned about alliteration in his reception class and look forward to hearing that he has mastered anaphora and epistrophe by the end of KS1.

The class teacher sounds very good. But I fear for her. She has, after all, broken a number of the basic rules of progressive education. First, she (who knew what alliteration was) has told her class (who previously didn't) what it is and how it works. That is "direct instruction" - very unfashionable among the progressives. I'm sure Janet et al will point you to research papers showing that "collaborative learning" is much more effective or expounding the merits of "co-constructing" learning. If she told them about alliteration while the class were seated in serried ranks on the carpet, that would be even worse. She'd be marked down for failing to ensure that the learning took place during group work and as part of a three or five part lesson.

Her other offence of course would be imparting knowledge. The taxonomy of tropes or figures of speech is, after all, knowledge (which is deemed bad by progressive educators) as opposed to a skill (deemed good).

Unless she finds a situation in a free school or academy, I fear her professional future looks bleak.

While a few such flowers continue to bloom in our education desert, I'm afraid a more typical tale is the one I was told yesterday by a parent of a Y2 child. Her daughter (who is scrupulous about beginning sentences with a capital letter and ending with a full stop) had her homework returned with a request from the teacher to use longer sentences. Her mother, keen to help, was shocked to discover that after seven and a half terms of the literacy hour, her little girl had not yet been introduced to the friendly comma, which rather cramped her ability to construct periodic sentences.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 22/03/2012 - 12:52

Ricky - I so enjoyed your parody of so-called progressive education. I've noticed that in several of your posts you "imply" and "suspect". This time you assume that I would be against teaching pupils about alliteration, punctuation et al. My ex-pupils will be snorting and rolling their eyes at this point as they remember me, red pen in hand, pointing out errors and explaining how the English language works.

Teaching isn't either one method or another. It's using a range of strategies when appropriate. I've used the lot - when appropriate. I've re-arranged the desks - when appropriate. Flexibility's the key. And structuring work so that the pupils end up where I want them to be at the end of the course using whatever route and speed is the most appropriate.

Despite Ricky's mocking tone about "fearing" for the teacher of Libby's son, this is not untypical. My granddaughter also identified alliteration at age five.

Knowing how language works (knowledge or, as Ricky puts it - "the taxonomy of tropes or figures of speech") is essential for using language effectively (skills). Again, it's not either/or, it's both as was discussed on this earlier thread:


Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 22/03/2012 - 13:02

It's recognised that having high aspirations encourage pupils to achieve. What is less well recognised is the opposite - the danger of adopting a dismissive attitude which devalues achievement.

It's a ploy used by the mean-spirited, the jealous, the petty or those who have an ulterior motive in downgrading the achievement of others. Perhaps it's because the perpetrator can't do what others can, so sneers in order to cover up his/her own inadequacy. Perhaps it's because s/he wants to show the achievement to be less than it is so that an alternative favoured by the denigrator can be put forward.

UK state education is not an "educational desert" - I wonder why so many people are trying so very, very hard to promote the idea that it is.

Libby Lawson's picture
Thu, 22/03/2012 - 14:33

Thank you Janet, you've pretty much said it all for me.

Ricky, you sound a little like my Dad -he is full of opinion about how schools let children down and yet he hasn't set foot in a school in thirty years, is an avid reader of certain newspapers and all the while is delighted at the ability of his grandchildren -'where do they get it all from?'

The reception teacher was appointed in September. She is experienced and well aware of what she is committing to, she is the Early Years Foundation Manager and with her in post I would suggest the future for her and all pupils looks very good.

Further up the school there are some problems but I feel, with able, motivated pupils and parents confident of that ability and the potential of their children and an expectation of just what can be achieved, we should not be afraid.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 22/03/2012 - 16:04


I'm afraid I'm too young to be your Dad, but he sounds a sensible fellow. And it's rather less than thirty years since I stepped into a school; it was yesterday. And I'll be there again tomorrow.

I remember from another thread that the headteacher of one of your children's schools (same one?) advised parents to hire a private tutor from Y4. She seems to be a touch more realistic about the situation that you are.

There must be a reason why, despite the economic downturn, private tutors, the Kumon Foundation, IXL Inc. and others are raking it in. Care to hazard a guess?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 22/03/2012 - 16:57

Libby - unfortunately there are so many commentators who refuse to believe that there can be anything good in English state education. You will have noticed that my praise of local schools was dismissed because I was "easily impressed" and you have been described as being less "realistic about the situation" than the head who advised parents to hire tutors from Year 4 in order that their children pass a test. Perhaps this head should be reminded that education is more than passing tests.

On another thread (link below) there is a comment by Sirkku Nikamaa-Berg about how assessment works in Finland. Their approach is far more sophisticated and educationally valuable than the English system of testing.


A negative view of English state education is promoted by the Government and supported by the media. Francis Gilbert wrote about the recent Ofsted report which spoke positively about the teaching of English. This was described by the Telegraph as a "damning report". And Government/media reporting about the 2009 PISA results was found to be misleading:


This was discussed further here:


While positive stories are ignored: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/01/england-scores-more-highly...


These are just a few links to evidence about the English state education system and biased reporting that have appeared on this site - these links provide further links to reports and research. You'll also have noticed how commentators making negative remarks rarely back up what they say with evidence - they just make derisory comments.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 22/03/2012 - 18:16


The evidence is there. Take (what I suspect is) Libby's school - let's call it SPS - she seems pretty pleased with it, even though it's the worst performing school in its area, failing to get almost a third of its pupils to Level 4 in Maths & English (which frankly isn't a big ask after 6 years and £30,000 investment per pupil). Less than three hundred metres away is another school (St B's) serving the same neighbourhood that gets 97% up to Level 4 and twice as many to Level 5 as Libby's school (despite all that learning about alliteration in Reception). Now, I'm not saying "hand the place over to an Academy chain", but I do think all this boosterism and cheer-leading for mediocre schools is misplaced. The people who will suffer are the kids whose parents can't afford the private tutors, the Kumon etc. They may pay the price of your seeming complacency - permanent unemployment.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 23/03/2012 - 09:16

It's important to look at context when judging a school's results. The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) found that many below-floor schools were doing a good job in difficult circumstances.


And the OECD warned that there was too much emphasis on raw results in English schools and this could lead to unintended, negative consequences.


You say that a school is failing because it didn't get "almost a third of its pupils to Level 4 in Maths & English". You will be aware that the government target is 60% so any school where more than 66.6% reach level 4 is on target. The danger of league tables is that there will always be some school which is "worst performing" - that doesn't necessarily mean that it is inadequate (see EEF above).

The opposite is also true. A school with high results can still be offering a poor level of education. In 2009, Ofsted placed a grammar school in special measures.


And Ofsted 2011 found a converter academy to be offering an inadequate level of education:


There is more to being a successful school than exam results (see OECD above). And no parent has to fork out for tutors, Kumon et al. They just have to be supportive, read, discuss, talk, play, have fun - enjoy their children. OECD investigated after-school classes and found that it was the "quality, not the quantity, of learning time that matters most" and "after-school classes with a [regular] school teacher can enhance equity while after-school classes with a teacher who is not from the school can exacerbate inequities."


"seeming complacency" - another phrase, Ricky, to add to the suspicions, assumptions, suppositions and implied assertions which tend to pepper your posts.

Libby Lawson's picture
Fri, 23/03/2012 - 14:57

I'll be brief Ricky, you seem determined that state maintained schools can't do it for our children and free schools will do it all better.
Please re-read my posts. I am certainly not 'cheerleading' a mediocre school, I am aware of its faults but of its strengths too and I will celebrate those and I believe in working within the system to best effect change for the school and local community.

'We will work with hard to ensure access to the full provision for all children, particularly those with special educational needs, English as an additional language and those who tend to fall short of their academic potential. This will be made possible by setting aspirational targets for individual progress, on-going assessment and review, employ homework tutors so children can be supported in school and through close partnerships with relevant professionals and parents.'

The above statement is from our heads proposed free school website and it appears to me this is not convincingly delivered at the school where our head is currently in post.
Ricky, why do you think our head will be any more able to achieve this at the proposed free school?

As Janet suggests, I believe our primary is 'doing a good job in difficult circumstances.'

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Sat, 24/03/2012 - 11:16


It's like those old Lassie movies from the 60s.

When the headteacher:

1. Calls parents in and advises them to hire a private tutor
2. Announces that (after climbing the long ladder to headship) she wants to start with a tabula rasa in a new free school up the road

the adults should look enquiringly at one another until one says "I think she's trying to tell us something."

You ask: "Ricky, why do you think our head will be any more able to achieve this at the proposed free school?"

Because the freedom to re-structure the curriculum and to broaden the styles of pedagogy will help address the problems of the 35 to 30 per cent who are currently left high and dry, and also develop the education of the rest so that potential is realized. Janet makes it seem that everything is okay if only 60% of a primary's pupils are ready to take part in the KS3 curriculum, because that it the "target".

That mean delivering 40% to secondary school in an unfit state to participate.
I think that's appalling.

It's doubly appalling that the overwhelming majority of those let down by the system as it currently is will be from BME and/or deprived backgrounds. Michael Gove has referred to this culture of low expectations for BME/poor pupils as "the soft bigotry of low expectations". I think he should sharpen his language. For those who are its victims, the bigotry is not soft. He should call it racism and snobbery - because that's what it really amounts to.

Libby Lawson's picture
Wed, 28/03/2012 - 11:01

If a state maintained school 300m away is doing so much better then what might be so wrong at my local primary school or who is it that might be getting it so wrong?

If I judged a school solely on its test results then I should have been satisfied with my child's results in Yr 2 and should not have worried about a significant dip in the quality and quantity of his work, his diminished love of learning and I should not have despaired at the apparent lack of variety in the curriculum. I should not have worried when it was clear at parents evening that his teacher could not be quite sure who he was. Evidence of a poor teacher or a teacher losing the plot and driven by who and what?

Of course it is more complicated than that. A school reflects its community and through its gates come all of its strengths and all its challenges too. I accept that and I understand that a school should not be measured by its test results alone. You can't measure or compare the opportunities and experiences schools provide. My daughter learnt a basic sign language when she was in nursery because among her peers there were some with hearing difficulties. She was extremely shy and clung to me but each morning from across the room a member of staff or child would greet her in sign and she would reply without having to speak, boosting her confidence and making her and me at ease. Growing and learning together, years later I found the heads account of their yr6 Sats results rather crass;

'The above results are considerably lower than the last 3 years but they are in line with our targets for this particular cohort where 8 children out of 57 had a statement for special educational needs and a further 14 were on the special educational needs register.'

Certainly a number of exciting and potentially effective initiatives have been introduced by the head who has enjoyed a freedom to restructure the curriculum -one I wouldn't disagree with on principle but probably a little too 'progressive' for you to stomach Ricky. Maintaining an interest and monitoring the initiatives once launched however doesn't appear to be a managerial priority.

There are difficulties in some maintained schools, certainly in this London primary and I would expect a good head to make some noise and fight for improvements but our head has avoided any conflict with the LA. There has been some unfortunate cheerleading of a school mediocre in parts but not by teachers who are generally constantly occupied with their classes, responding to ever changing goal posts, not by parents I know who do what they can for their children and their school but certainly by the head and some governors who seem happy to accept the heads interpretation of results and progress. Some seem to have asked no questions and seem a world away from the actual everyday reality of that school day in day out . The head seems distanced from that learning environment perhaps because as her proposed school literature explains she 'travels the country promoting her schools innovative, creative curriculum.'

Should I panic if my head suggests at a coffee morning, which has successfully caught some traditionally hard to reach parents, that success lies in them employing tutors? No, I won't panic but surely you'll understand if I feel very cross and disappointed and as part of this community extremely let down.
At that meeting our head shared a list detailing the destination of our current year 6. Most children will be going to one of four good local schools. It was clear that our head is largely unfamiliar with each of these establishments , their application processes, specialisms etc. Should I be guided by her enthusiasm or lack of it for any of those schools? Of course not but I am concerned that she is feeding the myth that local existing schools can't do it for our children.

I want my children to be able to enjoy the company of friends and neighbours they meet at school . I want them learning from their community. I expect my local school to work with that community. This experience, managed well, is the best learning for life and how positive change can be best effected. With a diverse and rich curriculum and using the flexible approaches that Janet referred to children can excel, what is happening in reception is evidence of that.

Unlike some I'm staying focused on my local primary school and I will not be distracted by the nearby 'tabula rasa.'
'Shock troops of innovation' don't make me laugh.

Terence Ayres's picture
Thu, 05/07/2012 - 20:02

In the early 1990sI became Chair Governors primary school in one of the most deprived inner city areas in the UK. At that time the closure of the school was not a question of 'if' but 'when'; and that my appointment was to oversee the closure.

The school was considered one of the least successful failing in every criteria, a large budget deficit,falling rolls and in the first year of SATS we barely made double figures. The question was should we accept the inevitable or fight on. The first task was to appoint a new head teacher and despite opposition the Governing Body accepted my recommendation that they appoint on a temporary basis the then deputy head teacher;I would like to point out at this juncture that what follows his down to his leadership and his talented staff both teaching and support.

Today, some 19 years late,he is still head teacher and the school still serves the same deprived community however the change in fortunes are the stuff dreams are made of.
At a recent Governing Body meeting we were informed, unofficially, that 90% gained level four with 58% achieving level five. At the same meeting it was also announced that our site manager had once again award Gold 'Leeds in Bloom',think he has gained Gold for the past 6 years. In addition the school has a national reputation for fine art; in 2007 at a exhibition at the Royal Academy our children provided to of the exhibits.

However despite all that the school has achieved the one thing that we are most proud of is that we are at the centre of the local community and not as in the dark days on the fringe when had the school closed not a tear would have been shed.

Just a quick rider, for two of past seven years our head teacher has been seconded, on request by the local authority, to provide management skills to three schools that were struggling.

Terence Ayres

Libby Lawson's picture
Thu, 05/07/2012 - 21:46

That is an encouraging account Terence, thank you and congratulations on the success of your school.

Libby Lawson's picture
Sun, 15/07/2012 - 22:18

It turns out that the heads proposed school was not amongst those announced on Friday. I hope our head will now focus fully on delivering all that she aspired to for her new school, well at least those parts that a good local community school should provide.

Just a little further up the road a new primary was approved on Friday. From what I know this school is offering to deliver all that a good local community school should provide. The proposers are experienced and well qualified, they have a proven record of delivering those opportunities that produce the best outcomes for children. They are certainly not, I would suggest, 'shock troops of innovation.'
In their consultation they were clear that they did not imagine themselves in competition with other primaries; there is a shortage of places here at primary level..
I wish the new school every success and I think this is very good news for this part of London.

I don't think families should need a choice at primary level; your local school should offer all that is required but it would be wonderful if there were a number of good local primaries available. Perhaps it will be the arrival of a new school that might prompt my local school, or specifically those responsible for running it, to raise their game.

Libby Lawson's picture
Tue, 09/10/2012 - 18:34

Oh dear, wrote too soon... the head and her team are trying again.
Will it be third time lucky for them?
When will a new head be appointed if the bid is successful? How long will it be before my children's school gets a coordinated long term plan headed by someone who actually is fully committed to it?

Iftikhar Ahmad's picture
Mon, 28/04/2014 - 17:17

Muslim free schools should be set up in those urban areas, where Muslim children are in majority.Muslim children not only need halal meat or Eid Holidays but they need state funded Muslim schools with Muslim teachers as role models during their development period also. There is no place for a non-Muslim child or a teacher in a Muslim school. Legally, the state has an obligation to respect the rights of parents to ensure that 'education and teaching(of their children) is in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions.' The schools must satisfy the spiritual, moral, social, and cultural needs of Muslim pupils. State schools with non-Muslim monolingual teachers are not in a position to satisfy their needs. A good school is not just a knowledge factory or a conveyor belt for churning out exam passes - it is a community, a family. A community is held together by common values and principles.

The demand for Muslim schools comes from parents who want their children a safe environment with an Islamic ethos. Parents see Muslim schools where children can develop their Islamic Identity where they won't feel stigmatised for being Muslims and they can feel confident about their faith. Muslim schools are working to try to create a bridge between communities. There is a belief among ethnic minority parents that the British schooling does not adequately address their cultural needs. Failing to meet this need could result in feeling resentment among a group who already feel excluded. Setting up Muslim school is a defensive response. State schools with monolingual teachers are not capable to teach English to bilingual Muslim children. Bilingual teachers are needed to teach English to such children along with their mother tongue. According to a number of studies, a child will not learn a second language if his first language is ignored.

You better teach your children in your own schools and let migrant communities teach their children according to their needs and demands. British Establishment and society should concentrate on the evils of their own society and stop trying to change the way of life of Muslims. Muslim community does not want to integrate with the British society, indulging in incivility, anti-social behaviour, drug and knife culture, binge drinking, teenage pregnancies and abortion. Prince Charles, while visiting the first grant maintained Muslim school in north London, said that the pupils would be the future ambassadors of Islam. But what about thousands of others, who attend state schools deemed to be "sink schools"? In education, there should be a choice and at present it is denied to the Muslim community. In the late 80s and early 90s, when I floated the idea of Muslim community schools, I was declared a "school hijacker" by an editorial in the Newham Recorder newspaper in east London. This clearly shows that the British media does not believe in choice and diversity in the field of education and has no respect for those who are different. Muslim schools, in spite of meager resources, have excelled to a further extent this year, with couple of schools achieving 100% A-C grades for five or more GCSEs. They beat well resourced state and independent schools in Birmingham and Hackney. Muslim schools are doing better because a majority of the teachers are Muslim. The pupils are not exposed to the pressures of racism, multiculturalism and bullying.

There are hundreds of state primary and secondary schools where Muslim pupils are in majority. In my opinion all such schools may be opted out to become Muslim Academies. This mean the Muslim children will get a decent education. Muslim schools turned out balanced citizens, more tolerant of others and less likely to succumb to criminality or extremism. Muslim schools give young people confidence in who they are and an understanding of Islam’s teaching of tolerance and respect which prepares them for a positive and fulfilling role in society. Muslim schools are attractive to Muslim parents because they have better discipline and teaching Islamic values. Children like discipline, structure and boundaries. Bilingual Muslim children need Bilingual Muslim teachers as role models during their developmental periods, who understand their needs and demands.
London School of Islamics Trust

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