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.