We need “pushy” parents supporting their local schools

When parents support local schools — and are not terrified of sending their children to them — then things do get better. We need articulate, “pushy” parents buying into local schools like the rest of the community. Since my son attended his local primary, things have got a lot better for him and it’s also made a difference to the school possibly as well.

He’s going to the local secondary school, which I’ve supported in its bid for Academy status because I believe that way it will become a better local school, which will appeal to a broader cross-section of the community. I am doing my best to change perceptions of that school in the local community by encouraging parents who wouldn’t normally seriously consider it to have a look, to observe lessons, to talk to the teachers, to make their own judgments.  It’s a good school, but many “well-off” parents are still reluctant to consider it. Saying that the whole system is broken when it’s not is counter-productive. When the whole community “buys into a school” it makes a difference.

There is a discourse in the media which relentlessly denigrates local schools. Having had bad experiences of teaching in my early career, I’ve been drawn into talking about my experiences of chaos in the classroom during the 1990s, although I must stress I’ve taught in good schools for the past decade.

As I get more distance on the Labour Party’s years in government, a few things become clear; they changed perceptions about education. Firstly, they spent a great deal more on schools than any previous administration; schools are much better resourced than when I first started teaching and this has largely had a positive effect. Secondly, amidst many policy failings, they did finally shift the focus onto the key area: improving standards of teaching and learning. Thirdly, they introduced quite a few “micro” things like “one-to-one tuition”, pastoral support teachers, a broader spectrum of qualifications and expanding the provision of support teachers which made a qualitative difference to pupil and teachers’ lives. They also introduced “academies” in areas of social deprivation which gave a new model of how things could be done. Standards did go up, behaviour did improve. I think there’s a fairly large consensus about this.

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Published by: @wonderfrancis

Francis Gilbert is a Lecturer in Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, teaching on the PGCE Secondary English programme. He also teaches the Creative Writing module on the MA in Children’s Literature, which is run by Maggie Pitfield and Professor Michael Rosen. Previously, he worked for a quarter of a century in various English state schools teaching English and Media Studies to 11-18 year olds. He has, at times, moonlighted as a journalist, novelist and social commentator. He is the author of ‘Teacher On The Run’, ‘Yob Nation’, ‘Parent Power’, ‘Working The System -- How To Get The Very Best State Education for Your Child’, and a novel about school, ‘The Last Day Of Term’. His first book, ‘I'm A Teacher, Get Me Out Of Here’ was a big hit, becoming a bestseller and being serialised on Radio 4. In his role as an English teacher, he has taught many classic texts over the years and has developed a great many resources to assist readers with understanding, appreciating and responding to them both analytically and creatively. This led him to set up his own small publishing company FGI Publishing (fgipublishing.com) which has published his study guides as well as a number of books by other authors, including Roger Titcombe’s ‘Learning Matters’ and anthology of creative writing 'The Gold Room'. He is the co-founder, with Melissa Benn and Fiona Millar, of The Local Schools Network, www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk, a blog that celebrates non-selective state schools, and has his own website, www.francisgilbert.co.uk. He has appeared numerous times on radio and TV, including Newsnight, the Today Programme, Woman’s Hour and the Russell Brand Show. In June 2015, he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing and Education by Goldsmiths.

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