Once again the Peterborough Telegraph reports that the city’s primary schools are bottom of the primary school league tables and yet again there is clamour from the ‘what’s the council going to do about it’ brigade.
Critics quickly trot out reasons for this sad, unacceptable and frankly baffling state of affairs - class sizes, English not a first language, low level disruption, churn or mobility rates, teacher recruitment and retention. But surely these factors are replicated in many parts of the country?
I have been out of education for over five years now so fully accept that my recent experience is limited. However, whilst working in Peterborough, I was fortunate enough to visit every school within the local authority. I found the vast majority to be ordered and purposeful and visitors (whether professional or casual) left feeling positive. Are we really saying that our schools are the worst in the country, particularly bearing in mind that 75 per cent have been judged by Ofsted as Good or Outstanding? Something doesn’t match up.
One of the most persuasive reasons for the calamitous situation may well be to do with parental aspiration. If children are not surrounded by a 24/7 climate of aspiration, success and love of learning for its own sake, then they will be lucky to reach 6 out of 10 let alone 8, 9 or 10. And before people start pointing the finger at migration, many of the newcomers - Poles, Latvians and Lithuanians in particular - have extremely high aspirations. That’s why they’ve uprooted and come here in the first place. Other parts of the country have had high levels of migration.
The academies programme was lauded as being able to ‘free schools from local authority control’. So we now have a significant proportion of educational establishments now called academies as opposed to schools. Yet results have seemingly not improved. ‘Academisation’ was supposed to be the answer. This initiative has clearly failed. Perhaps the true answer lies in the statistics themselves. It could well be that, for example, Wisbech primary schools fare even worse than ours but their results are absorbed by being in a large authority, Cambridgeshire, which contains other schools that raise the overall average.
The same might be true of other surrounding authorities – Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire. Perhaps our results are the curse of the unitary.
It is undeniable that the results are poor.
It is also true to say that there is a large number of people, both professional and interested observers, who are concerned about the results and are just as mystified as myself. Surely the time has now come for a conference to be arranged to which representatives of the Council, academy trusts, Ofsted, regional educational commissioners and other relevant professionals can attend to explain, discuss and plan in an open public forum at which we can all contribute to the way forward.
This whole thing is becoming tediously repetitive and as predictable and regular as the start of the new school year itself.
Something has to change.
Toby Wood - Newark Avenue -Peterborough