Nick Seaton, of the Campaign for Real Education, on the efforts of the educational establishment to undermine a good school.
With hundreds of failing, unpopular schools around the country, voters might expect ministers, local authorities and the inspectorate to concentrate all their efforts on improving these weak links. Sadly, that would be too straightforward.
Instead, the establishment has made a very public example of Stretford Grammar School in Conservative-controlled Trafford local authority, the first grammar school to be placed in 'special measures'
The inspection that caused this questionable decision was done by HMI Vincent Ashworth. His report notes that 'almost two thirds of students are from minority ethnic backgrounds'. Also that 'around 30% of students speak a first language other than English.'
His criticisms of the school are more concerned with its management
and the school's perceived failure to tick 'progressive' boxes than
with academic standards. For some year-groups, he reports that information and communication technology (ICT) is unsatisfactory, as
are physical education, personal, social and health education (PSHE)
and Citizenship. 'Provision for PSHE', he claims, 'lacks cohesion and
arrangements for sex and relationship education are underdeveloped'.
Those who care more about academic achievement than indoctrination
may think many of the inspector's criticisms centre on areas of the
curriculum that good schools avoid as far as possible. It is notable, too, that the inspector provides no clear evidence to support his decision.
HMI Ashworth's antipathy towards Stretford Grammar School seems
evident from the fact that in his explanatory letter to pupils, he
stresses that they excel in drama and music, but fails to tell them about the 'strong' teaching of English, which is no mean achievement in
a school where a majority of pupils are from ethnic minority
With 92% of Stretford's pupils achieving 5 or more grade A*-C GCSEs
including English and maths (95% counting all subjects) and a thriving
sixth form, what is the inspector's problem? Why aren't he and his colleagues concentrating their efforts on improving the comprehensive
schools in nearby Manchester where only 14% or 15% of pupils achieve 5
or more grade A*-C GCSEs including English and maths?
Incidentally, the national average for this benchmark is 48%. In
selective Trafford, the average is 64% – 16% above the national
average. In comprehensive Manchester, the average is 37% – 11% below average.
This issue highlights another interesting comparison: the Department
for Children, Schools and Families gives Stretford Grammar School a KS2
to KS4 CVA (contextual value added) score of 989.0 – 11 points below the 1,000.0 benchmark. It gives Brookway High School in
Manchester, where only 15% of youngsters achieve 5 or more A*-C GCSEs
including English and maths, a CVA score of 999.5 – almost exactly on
the benchmark. So according to this measure, Brookway is performing at
an acceptable level. Stretford Grammar is not.
All this, of course, owes more to politics than a genuine desire to
improve education. Beverley Hughes, the MP for Stretford, is a Labour
minister. Tony McNulty, one of her ministerial colleagues (currently in
trouble over his Parliamentary expenses) is married to Christine
Gilbert, the chief inspector of schools. And by allowing such unfair
attacks on good schools, Ed Balls, the education secretary, is almost
certainly seeking favour with extreme left-wingers, perhaps as a
prelude to an eventual bid for his party's
Par for the course, no doubt.
More disturbing is the rather muted response from Conservative
politicians. Why aren't they publicly crying 'foul', both locally and