My laptop has been away being fettled or I would have written this sooner. I stumbled across a tweet by @farrowmister asking how the Dfe might respond to the fact that some primary schools can never reach the 85% floor targets. One response dismissed this as “excuses” and this made me just a little bit cross.
Let me explain why. I am a Governor at just such a school and have been since its creation 10 years ago from the merger of two existing schools. I am a community Governor and have no connection with any staff or pupils and I’m not a political appointee – so no vested interest. I found myself on the Governors, fell in love with the school and watched it grow. It will be a miracle if it reaches the 85% floor target despite the hard work and dedication of every member of staff from the Head to the site manager and all points in between. And I’m not about to make any excuses for this because there aren’t any.
- Our town is in the bottom 10% of all the indices you can think of and our school is in one of the two most challenged areas in that town.
- Many of the children arrive at the nursery in nappies and some can barely speak.
- We celebrate an increasingly diverse population which brings both rewards and further challenges to address
- Around 60 of the children are known to live with domestic violence.
- Many of the families have no, or limited, wage earner.
- Drugs and mental health issues are significant in our catchment.
- Many of the children live in chaotic, difficult situations.
- They have limited experiences because their families have no money for trips to the theatre and cinema and, often, no tradition within their families.
Despite that, the school’s results are fantastic and increasing year on year. They don’t match national – nor would they reach the 85% floor target – but they’re not that far off. Two Ofsted inspections recognised that the school can do no more. Behaviour is impeccable – Ofsted says so and so do we. When we started out 10 years ago behaviour reports to Governors ran to a couple of sides of A4. Now, we don’t even mention it. We have permanently excluded one child in all that time because he was a desperate soul who needed more than we could give him.
In addition to focussed, dedicated, good or better teaching, this is what we (and by that I mean they) do:
- They all – at every level and in every area – work like dogs. At the last Ofsted we had part timers in on their non-working days without being asked.
- They plan, teach like demons, assess, and analyse constantly. They have high aspirations for the children and never, ever settle for second best.
- We invest in the staff and have high standards when it comes to appointments because only the best will do.
- We have an extra teacher in each group to enable support, intervention, small group work…
- Every class has at least one TA.
- We have a dedicated mentor for punctuality and attendance who is out on the front and the estate every single day ensuring the kids are in school.
- Our inclusion is second to none with a variety of groups to address the deficits in the children’s experiences and understandings including a nurture group.
- We invest massively in providing experiences for the children. We have just invested in a beautiful music hub that looks like a Scandinavian holiday lodge and an additional music teacher to work in it. Every year our Year 5 works with Manchester Arts on a project that has reduced me to tears when I turn up for the final exhibition and performance – subjects covered so far: The Titanic, Elizabethan England and World War 1. Our children are also involved with a Shakespeare project at a local theatre every year.
- Every year they are taken to the panto and the local cinema.
- We have dedicated PE teachers who make good use of the outdoor provision which is, again, second to none.
- We have after school and holiday activities which are well attended.
In short, we take every chance we can and cram our kids with experiences and opportunities. The school does its level best to make up for what the children are missing but, like all schools, it cannot overcome all of society’s ills.
We never say never but, in short, the challenges the children and the school face every single day make it difficult, if not impossible, to reach the 85% floor target despite their efforts and hard work because not all children are equal. They do not have equally prosperous or knowledgeable families with equal incomes and access to experiences and opportunities. And that is an issue for society not schools…but schools like ours are likely to be punished for it.
I feel humbled every time I walk through the school door and if I had a child of primary age that is the school they would attend.