Friday, 21 December 2007

Are Local Schools Failing our Children?

Earlier this week I attended a meeting at Wellingborough Council at which we received a presentation from representatives of Northamptonshire Local Education Authority on “Trends in Performance in Secondary Schools in Wellingborough Town”. Also in attendance were the Headteachers from two of the three town secondary schools (Wrenn and Weavers) and Wollaston School, which largely serves rural areas. Noticeable by their absence was Sir Christopher Hatton School.

What the statistical data showed, over several years, is that at primary level (end of Key Stage 2; aged 11) children are not performing as well as the County or national average, but the gap is relatively low at around 3%. Given the socio-economic characteristics of Wellingborough (compared to the County and national situation) this gap is not altogether surprising.

By the end of Key Stage 3 (age 14) the gap has narrowed, although Wellingborough children are still slightly below the county and national average (except in English - were they are slightly above both).

All this indicates that primary education and early secondary education is probably working and attainment is rising and catching up with the county and national average – although we should not be complacent.

However, at Key Stage 4 (GCSE; 5+ A-C grades) the earlier key-stage results - which looked promising - turn into a disaster zone, with the gap in performance between children at Wellingborough schools and the county and national average, widening to over 10% (compared to the county as a whole) and around 20% compared to the national average. Something is going very, very, wrong – with 100s of our children failing to gain the GCSE results that they deserve.

If this were not bad enough, the data (Wellingborough Town) for children of Black-Caribbean origin is even worse. Only 11% gaining 5+ GCSEs (including English, Maths and Science), compared to 36% for children of White/British origin and 69% for children of Indian origin. This also compared very unfavourably with Black-Caribbean children in Northamptonshire as a whole of 30%. This situation is a disaster for the community of Wellingborough (but particularly the Black community) and measures to respond to such a disaster are clearly called for.

What was the response from our local Headteachers to this information? Concern? Acknowledgement that these problems needed urgent attention? Recognition of a disaster facing Black children? None of it – just spin and attempts to imply that things were really quite OK and not as bad as the data suggests! If the data itself was not sufficient to indicate a problem, the reaction from those who should be at the forefront of tackling it certainly turned it into one – a major one! I, and am sure others who were at the meeting, were really quite gob-smacked.

This level of complacency is unacceptable - particularly when it comes from those at the top of their profession who should be leading the assault in addressing the problems that have been identified. We should not be failing our children in this way!

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