Friday, January 27, 2012

Lightman fails to dispel gloom

The BBC has just broken the news that ‘just one in 15 (6.5%) pupils starting secondary school in England “behind” for their age goes on to get five good GCSEs including English and maths’. Moreover, only 34% of children classified as disadvantaged (children entitled to free school dinners or in care) reached the government benchmark.
The new data also indicate that 95% of pupils reaching Level 5 in their SATs at the end of Key Stage 2 (Year 6) go on to achieve five good GCSEs, while only 45.6% of children getting Level 4 went on to get five good GCSEs.
This is exactly what Sounds-Write has been arguing to be the case since we started training teachers in 2003. Many secondary SENCos and special needs staff have reported to us the enormous numbers of children entering secondary school with reading ages far behind their chronological ages, notwithstanding their ‘good’ SATs results.
What Sounds-Write does is to train the staff in these schools to catch up some of the neediest, though this is hugely difficult when there are so many children requiring help. What these heroic teachers also have to contend with is the unwillingness of head teachers and line managers to allow them the time needed to do their jobs thoroughly. Half an hour twice a week has never been enough time to ‘catch up’ a child who is already as many as five or six years behind in their reading and spelling. Some special needs teachers are even expected to sit next to pupils during their timetabled class lessons and remediate whatever problems they have!
On its website, the BBC carries an interview with Brian Lightman, the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders. All I can say is that Mr Lightman did little to illuminate the discussion by whining about the ‘difficulties’ and by claiming that every school he knows ‘is doing everything it can to help disadvantaged children’.
Equally breathtaking was Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg’s accusation that, while he acknowledged disadvantaged pupils were not reaching their potential, the government is promoting ‘pet projects over real need’. Has he somehow forgotten that the systematic failure we are now looking at results directly from the last government not getting to grips with the extent of the problem?
The truth is that parents are sick of the kinds of excuses offered by union leaders such as Lightman, and what really took the biscuit yesterday was his suggestion that ‘parents should go in to help and actually make sure when they’re choosing a school that the school will actually be suited to the needs of their individual child ’. Fat chance of that if your child is allocated to one of the 909 in which ‘not one low-attaining pupil (those not reaching Level 4 at the end of primary school) reached this level’.
No wonder the demand for change is so insistent. The time has come for serious reform and that can only happen when all concerned look squarely at the evidence showing what works and what does not.

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