Another eventful week is just coming to a close in the education world. Wednesday saw the publication of the 2010 Performance Tables, known in the media as the ‘League Tables’, presumably because schools, like football teams, shift up and down year on year according to their points scores. It is a crude analogy really, and diminishes what schools do to think of it in these terms. This year’s big talking point, as I have mentioned before in this blog, was the so-called English Bacc(alaureate), which is not really a Baccalaureate at all, but a collected of – albeit important – GCSEs selected by the secretary of state. The problem this year is that the English Bacc figures published in the tables really tell you nothing whatsoever about how good a school is; they simply tell you whether or not the school decided to make doing a foreign language optional two years ago. In schools where languages are compulsory, the English Bacc figures are high, and in schools where they are not, the figures are low. This is because a large proportion of students already do the other subjects needed English, maths, science and a humanity.
Humanity? What is a humanity? Well, the government has decided that it is history or geography only. None of the other subjects which have been traditionally called humanities and deal with ‘human affairs’ are included. There is an argument that geography is only really partly a humanity – the physical part, dealing with geology, the weather and so on, is really science, not a humanity at all (that’s why a geography degree can be a BA or a BSc, depending on the type of geography studied). But I suspect the government really wants everyone to do history, but couldn’t quite justify making history compulsory for everyone, so ‘hid’ it in the apparently objective category of ‘humanities’.
Anyway, having said all of that, Bennett can be justifiably proud of its achievements in 2010 as published in the performance tables. Kent is the largest local authority area in the country, and Bennett is by quite a wide margin the strongest performing school which does not academically select its students. And in case anyone says that that is only because we have able or motivated children, our ‘value added’ figures, which measure how much progress children make between 11 and 16, are also very high indeed compared with other schools who also have motivated children. This is all a tremendous tribute to Bennett’s students, parents, teachers, other staff and ethos. One of the slightly disconcerting this about achieving so highly is maintenance – year on year improvement in perpetuity is obviously impossible, but taking a ‘dip’ is never comfortable either.
As I have often said before though, school is about much more than just exam results. Although families and parents are the prime influence on children, after that school is where they spend the biggest single proportion of their time once they start. Acquiring the values, skills and beliefs needed for successful and reasonably fulfilled adult life happen to a significant extent in the context of school. That’s not to say you can actually teach values, beliefs and qualities, but you can model them, talk about them, and provide a context where their growth is supported and encouraged. Not measurable in a ‘performance table’ and still less in a ‘league table’ though!
The new film ‘The King’s Speech’ is a perfect illustration of how people need affirmation and support to thrive. George VI, according to the film, was bullied and endlessly put down as a child, which led to the confidence issues exacerbating his tendency to stammer. An important part of the support from his speech therapist friend was simply friendship and affirmation. It’s a great film – I give it 5 stars!