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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 students launch petition for change as funding cuts threaten their education

The change.org petition has been launched by some students at Thomas Bennett Community College and already has over 200 signatures.

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The school has been in the news over the past few months due to the funding cuts by TKAT.

With teachers leaving the school and residents community meetings being held with councillors it has been and continues to be a turbulent time for all associated with the school.

Now some students have taken it upon themselves to launch their own petition aimed it seems at changing the school for the better.

The students say:

“We are Students that are currently attending Thomas Bennett. We are undertaking our GCSE’s and are month’s away from exams. With limited welfare support throughout the school, such as a medical room assistant or a pastoral support assistant for each year we are struggling tremendously with the way the school is run due to low funding.”

The student who has launched the petition also mentions how he emailed the CEO of TKAT raising his concerns but was told it ‘wasn’t in their hands and overall should stop talking about it’.

Whilst the petition does not mention it there is a feel that the aim is to bring the school back into public sector as stated by Crawley Council leader Peter Lamb who has show his support of the petition.

The petition states:

“Over the years Thomas Bennett has struggled with funding, only to which this struggle became increasingly more difficult when the academy, TKAT, took over our school. Profit not students success is what this academies aim is and large group of students including me are ready to do whatever needs to happen for something to change! Whether that’s a whole year walkout or a strike with the whole school. “

It adds:

“A walk out is something TKAT does not want to face especially with media coverage and limited time for year elevens, a whole year will not just get bad qualifications with missed time but will also reflect on the education that is being provided for students by this school run by the academy.”

The very fact that students themselves have now made the decision to make a stand shows how passionately the pupils feels about their educational needs but a viable outcome still seems distant.

A spokesperson from the Kemnal Academies Trust commented,

“We welcome our students’ active involvement in their education and the Trust has been working directly with the students at Thomas Bennett.

Funding is a national issue for Education affecting all schools, with the West Sussex “worth it” movement taking a leading part in the campaign to improve funding for all schools”.

The petition can be read here.

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