Friday, February 20, 2009

Is our children learnin'?*

During last night's Children and Young People's Scrutiny Panel, we were given a presentation on Greenwich's school results. The picture remains dismal, with far too many young people still being failed by our system. But as ever, we were shown the 'good news' of steady improvement.

Well, it's true there has been some improvement, but even a dead cat bounces. One stat, which I'm sure the Council's propaganda machine will be churning out repeatedly in the coming months, is that in 2007 there were four schools which fell below the dreadful standard of fewer than 30 per cent of pupils getting 5 good GCSE passes, whereas last year there was just one such school.

But I was a little suspicious. Last year my colleagues and I attacked a Council initiative called the "X Factor" which targetted resources on pupils on the borderline of getting the key standard of five good passes. The objective was clear - to boost Greenwich's standing in the league tables. The problem with the approach is that it is at best misleading, and at worst hugely dishonest and unfair. By pushing a few pupils over the borderline, the results are inflated, whilst not changing the basic fact that nearly three quarters of pupils in those schools are being failed. What about this majority? The real danger is that the falsely contrived 'improvement' dilutes the focus and leads to dangerous complacency, whilst leaving the underlying problems unchanged.

So I asked - was this seeming improvement likely to be linked to the targetted focus on borderline pupils? Oh yes, came the proud reply, initiatives like the "X Factor" have worked a treat (I paraphrase, but not much). Dear oh dear. Until we focus on the radical change needed to improve standards, rather than masaging the figures, more and more Greenwich children will be failed.

*With apologies to ex-President Bush

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