JohnbaldJohn Bald was heartened by Ryan's experience shown in the Channel 4 series but fears there is still lot wrong with Passmores Academy

After last week’s furore, something very much to like in the final episode of Passmores. Ryan, a pupil assessed as having Asperger’s syndrome, had been held back in primary school in Spain, but flourished at Passmores. He is transparently honest, with a broad and ready smile,  and movingly described his time at Passmores as “the best two years of my life.”  The ability of British education  to meet individual needs like Ryan’s is a great strength in comparison with continental systems, which can be brutal to children who can’t keep pace.

As C4 had trailed two contrasting students for its final episode, I’d expected to see a high achiever, but instead we had another encounter with the broken society, this time through “Vinni”, a boy in and out of care who is given internal isolation (sitting at a computer outside the head’s office) for having a “tramline” cut into his hair. Ryan’s problems can be solved with goodwill, hard work and support from his parents. Vinni’s can’t.

Left unsupervised he wanders off to talk to his friend, also in isolation, unsupervised at one of Mr Drew’s booths. There is a logistical problem when senior staff undertake this kind of supervision in person, as they have other things to do, and can be called away at any moment, but it’s hard to see what could have helped the boy at this stage. “I’m perfectly happy achieving nothing,” he said.  He truanted for most of the summer term, and was excluded from the leavers’ ball. It was sad that Mr Goddard said that he would do no work in the care system – people who pass GCSE don’t stop work at 3.25 in the afternoon.

We saw pupils opening their GCSE results. One had 2 A*s, and Ryan got an A in Spanish, ¡Muy bien!  But my critics of last week did have a point in that C4 did not set out to provide the balanced and fair account of the school’s life that was available to them with all of their access and equipment. C4 has always had a leftist ideological edge, and the idea of a school catering for the full spectrum never came into it. In the end, it was an expensive piece of television, but a cheap shot and a wasted opportunity.

Mr Goddard and Mr Drew were on BBC Breakfast time during the week and were entirely unrepentant about their approach, Mr Goddard even taking issue with the presenter over the issue of the pupil not understanding pi. His method of defence was attack, attempting to trump the presenter’s 22/7 with a series of decimals which are in fact less precise, and not addressing the key issue of whether the pupil
understood the concept. The Independent thought that the pupil was “having a Jade Goody moment – or arguably showing a healthy inquisitiveness “. In fact, it was neither – she was anything but “not bovvered.” She was extremely frustrated, and could not do her work.

The ferocity of some of last week’s comments surprised me, and showed just how far we are divided over the purposes of education and what schools should be. One critic, having replied twice on Conservative Home, showed his regard for free speech by censoring a modest reply that I made to his comments on his own website.

The best of the critics was the last, agreeing that personal attacks were out of place, but making an interesting case about funds being diverted from planned school improvements in Bradford to pay for academies. This person also welcomed the demise of the general teaching council, which she saw as an unfair intrusion into teachers’ private lives. I saw it as a leftist quango and kangaroo court for whistleblowers, but as long as it’s gone I’m not arguing.