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Friday, June 5, 2015

Can we stop looking at the bloody trees please and concentrate on the wood?!

A thought is starting to bubble up in my conversations with Caroline (the originator of the Elliot Foundation) about our education system.

The centre of focus in the education debate has (nearly always) been on the individual child and the individual school and its individual teacher.  Because, of course, this is what the individual voter actually cares about... As a result the debate becomes how can you improve the outcomes for the individual child in the individual school?  Which in turn leads to the identification of 'failing' schools and what can be done to 'turn them around' 

But the child and the family, the teacher and the school don't actually exist in isolation.  Children and families can move between schools.  As can teachers and headteachers. They are part of a system.  And no-one is talking about the system.

I don't care if you have taken one primary school from special measures to outstanding in an alarmingly short period of time.  Well done! You are amazing and thank you!  But we can't build a system upon you or the very very small number of people like you.

The question is how do you take 2,917  primary schools (or 18%) that are currently R.I. or Inadequate and get them to Good or better and keep them there for a sustained period of time? 

And can you do it without those schools that are currently judged good or outstanding slipping back down the pole through neglect and lack of support?

[Just to establish some credibility in this debate, the Elliot Foundation's 18 primary schools have gone from 66% sponsored academies (below floor, vulnerable or in category) to 83% good or outstanding in under three years despite being in the most deprived quintile (bottom 20%) demographically.  But this is not about us]

Perhaps you are of the opinion that 100% of the country's primary schools being judged good or better by OfSTED is an absurd ambition... Then what is an acceptable percentage?  And how long should it take for 'the system' to help these schools out of these judgements? 

This then gets us into the real questions:
  • What is an acceptable failure rate as a percentage for the system as a whole?
  • What is a reasonable funding point? (i.e. what is the point at which the law of diminishing returns really kicks in...?)
  • What is a school? Is it a collection of classrooms? What in turn is a classroom?  Could a classroom exist in multiple places at the same time (think rural schools)
  • What is a teacher?
  • What is a learner and how do we know when we have built one?
Just thinking...