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Michael Ferry: Education – It’s more than just good grades

Headteacher at St Wilfrid’s Catholic School, Michael Ferry on the price of education and how funding impacts schools.

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Michael Ferry, Headteacher at St Wilfrid's Catholic School

Let me first start by asking the question, “What is Education?”.

Is it purely the pursuit of academic excellence or is it more than that? We live in a society that has to measure everything and in the realms of education it is quite easy to find things to measure. Take for instance the % of students in a school who achieve a Grade 4 or better in English and Maths. That’s an easy measurement to make and allows parents to make direct comparisons between schools; dead easy, yes? Well actually, no it isn’t as simple as that. When you start comparing these types of attainment data, you are only comparing the “end results” and what you can’t compare is the level of progress being made in different schools.

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Even when you compare progress, it isn’t simple and straight forward as progress measures, as they currently stand, offer no context to the way in which they have been achieved, but as a society we like to measure things and as such we have seen the evolvement of education league tables.

Now let me put my cards on the table here; in my opinion the only place for league tables is in football (or any other sport to be honest); they have no place in education. The reason for this is the fact that schools do so much more than prepare students to sit exams; schools seek to celebrate each child’s uniqueness by recognizing their talents and working with them, and crucially their parents, to help them develop into young men and women of integrity who can enter adult society and make a positive contribution; to be frank, to make them better human beings. Therein lies the problem with league tables.

So, how do schools do the “unmeasurable”? They seek to employ the highest calibre of staff, both teaching and non-teaching; staff who have a passion for working with young people and will constantly go the extra mile for the students in their charge.

Presently in West Sussex, as well as in other Local Authority areas across England, there is a recruitment crisis in the teaching profession making it harder to deliver those life changing opportunities and experiences which can have a huge impact on the children of this country.

The recruitment crisis is compounded by the current funding situation that education is currently experiencing. We have been told regularly over the last 3 years that there “is more money in education than ever before” and more recently that “record levels” of funding are in education. In fact, this mantra was repeated on numerous occasions in the days preceding the protest by over 2,000 Headteachers on 28th September, when a letter was delivered to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Right Honorable Phillip Hammond, urging him to invest more in education funding.

Subsequently, we have now seen that following an investigation over alleged deliberate misuse of financial data, the DfE has been officially reprimanded [Click here]. Still, the campaign for fairer funding continues, buy why is it important?

Crucially, fewer and fewer schools are now able to offer as much support to children than they were in the past. Trained counsellors in schools are few and far between, Education Psychologists; Speech & Language Therapists, likewise and in broad terms, most secondary schools that I am aware of have seen a reduction in the number of Pastoral staff. This, compounded, by the fact that the number of teachers in secondary schools has reduced over the years means that although there is more work to do due to changes in exams and in accountability measures, there are less staff to do it!

It’s not surprising then that opportunities are being reduced from both within the curriculum and from outside of it. In essence, schools are being forced to plough their limited resources into the basics, the teaching of subjects so that students can pass exams.

Is that what we want as a society? I don’t think it is. Yes, getting good grades is important as it allows school leavers to access opportunities and further their ambitions once they have left school but what about the tools which prepare students for later life; the development of a moral purpose; the desire to tackle social injustice; to be tolerant; inclusive; to be loving and kind; in essence to be a better human being?

As the debate continues over funding in education, we really do need to think carefully about what we want our society to look like. If we get it wrong now, we will be blamed for generations to come!

Education

Crawley school becomes first in town to win gold award

The school achieved the bronze award in 2015, the silver in 2016 and has now been awarded gold.

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The School Mark award helps pave the way for schools to grow a culture of active travel by encouraging pupils to cycle, walk and scoot.

An awards assembly was held on 17 October at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Catholic Primary to celebrate the first school in Crawley to achieve the Sustrans Gold School Mark award, an initiative of Crawley Borough Council and Sustrans, the charity making it easier for people to walk and cycle.

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In attendance was the Mayor of Crawley, two local councillors and Sustrans staff.

The school has achieved the bronze award in 2015 and the silver in 2016. This fantastic achievement was made possible through the commitment of the school head teacher, Mr Melia, and the school Bike It champion, Mrs De Lange.

Working together with a dedicated Sustrans Bike It officer the school has gathered a wealth of evidence that is required to achieve this challenging award. This includes showing that, since working with Sustrans in 2011, the percentage of pupils arriving at school by car has dropped by nine per cent. Those arriving to school by cycling, walking or scooting has risen by six per cent. This is impressive considering over a third of the school come from outside the catchment area.

Work towards the award is structured so that children are empowered to make the decision to cycle, scoot or walk to school and enjoy the benefits associated with it. This includes a variety of educational and fun events such as monthly Bike It Breakfasts, bike skills workshops as well as a genuine commitment from the school to promoting cycling, scooting and walking both within the school policy and the wider community.

Celebrations continued after the awards assembly with a delivery officer Bike It Pat conducting a Dr Bike safety inspection of bikes at school and a static bike challenge where 3.3 miles were sprinted out by a group of year 6 children during break time. A year 6 boy achieved the fastest speed of 32 mph and won himself a bike computer.

The school has further planned a BMX fun day and also a bicycle decoration day highlighting the importance of High Visibility in conjunction with Diwali and Fireworks.

Mayor Carlos Castro said:“There is clearly a desire from people in the local community who want to choose to walk and cycle more and programmes like this one which encourage families to travel more actively can really help.”

Cllr Geraint Thomas, said: “The School Mark program is an exciting initiative to help improve the environment outside of schools as well as encouraging families to walk, cycle or scoot to school. Initiatives like this benefit the community as a whole.”

Cllr Peter Smith said: “It’s encouraging that there was such a positive response from everyone at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Primary. They have worked hard but had a lot of fun too and this award is well deserved.”

The School Mark is the Sustrans active travel award awarded by Sustrans guiding schools to excellence to active travel.

The Bike It Programme is delivered by Sustrans and is funded through the Crawley Borough Council. The programme has been delivered in Crawley since 2011 and has currently working with 17 schools across the borough.

More info on the Sustrans Bike It programme can be found here.

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