Thanks to a headteacher with pocket recorder, we know that Birmingham City Council is expecting a “perfect firestorm” from Ofsted’s twin reports on their child protection and education services. Well it might. The infiltration of Birmingham schools has taken place on its watch – according to the Telegraph, it has even employed a governor at the heart of the scandal to train other governors.
Its Chief Executive has had an interesting career, beginning as a special needs teacher, and moving into management on the back of the inclusion and “every child matters” agenda of Labour’s Year Zero legislation of 2005-6, which, as I explained last week, set out to reorient British education completely and in a direction most people don’t want.
Educational politics give great power to unelected local officials who do more or less as they please under the pretence of democratic accountability. They award themselves plutocratic salaries, control careers within their jurisdiction, and most continue to pursue progressive policies based on mixed ability teaching and the pursuit of equality rather than standards. They have lost the confidence of both Labour and Conservative politicians – Sir Michael Barber, Blair’s “deliverer”, endorsed Michael Gove’s approach on Newsnight last week – and the only way of dealing with them is to remove their powers. That’s why new schools need to be beyond their control, and why free schools matter.
Now charity. Our unfriendly friends are hopping mad at the leak of the way their leader’s wife obtained £12m for her charity that provides books to children in care. I was hopping mad too. I run A Book of My Own, a small charity that receives no funding, is supported by genuinely charitable donations, and pays no salaries or expenses.
The big difference between our approaches is that, in our scheme, the child chooses the books, with guidance, while yellow leader’s scheme pre-selects them. We recently gave £800 – part of a donation from a parent whose child I’d taught – to a London school, and had this from the headteacher:
“I just wanted to let you know that we took 3 groups of children to the bookshop this week and let them choose 3 books each to keep. It was such a lovely experience for them. It was quite moving to watch them in the bookshop choosing their books, with the help of the adults, and then sitting down to start reading (one little girl had a thumb in her mouth). They felt really special and proudly carried their new books home in a carrier bag to show their parents. The whole experience was special for them – even the ride in my car to the bookshop (it isn’t every day that they get to go in the Headteacher’s car). They were also thrilled to get 3 bookmarks each from the shop assistant.
“I can’t believe how much it has also raised their self-esteem. It seems to have really given them a boost. Thank you again from the bottom of my heart. I am very grateful.”
This is the right way to do it, and if anyone can help us to extend the scheme, I’ll be very grateful. Thanks to Cllr Jenny Whittle for introducing the idea in Kent.
Mr Drew’s School For Boys (C4, Tues 9pm) continues to show what happens when toxic childhood meets very good teaching. Episode 2 began with boy using outrageous language to his mother, continued with parents joining their children’s fight for fizzy drinks – interesting evidence on the immediate effect of these on children’s pulse – and ended with a successful trip to the seaside, marred only by one obscene gesture from a one of the boys.
In Educating Essex, Mr Drew lost credibility with me when he told a class who were working at about ten per cent of their capacity that he “loved” teaching them. This time, he sets lines and sticks to them, able to do so because of a very high adult to children ratio (five teachers plus himself to eleven boys, plus parents) and because he doesn’t have to teach a class at the same time, let alone run a school. Well worth watching – or catching up with – but frightening.