Secret Teacher: sensationalist headlines can do real damage to schools

Mar 3, 2018 by

We’ve been labelled one of the worst schools in the country based on league tables – it’s undone much of the progress we’ve made

“Miss, did you know this is one of the worst schools in the country?” a boy from yet another class asked me. “Yeah, what hope have we got?” another chimed in.

One Monday morning, after a long weekend, the headteacher began our staff briefing with some troubling news. Our school had been labelled one of the worst in England by a national newspaper, and social media was awash with chatter from our students and their parents. That one headline has had a disastrous impact on the morale of the staff and students in our school.

My school was rated good by Ofsted in 2016 and we’ve been working towards achieving outstanding at the next inspection. It has no gangs, graffiti, knives or guns. My students have never threatened me. In fact, most of them say good morning and open doors for me. Some of them have even given me handmade Christmas cards.

The school promotes discussion of and support for all aspects of mental health, LGBT and career advice, and has an endless list of messages that aim to help students become moral, compassionate individuals. We have mentoring schemes with a local company and there are plenty of opportunities for extra-curricular activities.

Apparently none of these things matter. All that matters is a school’s league table position – one-dimensional data that fails to tell the full story of the education young people are receiving.

An assistant headteacher, in charge of raising aspirations, was gutted. It had taken her three years to raise the profile of the school and felt that one newspaper article meant all of that work was undone. Suddenly she was spending her days firefighting on social media. Meanwhile, I spent a lot of time in lessons explaining the two new measures schools are judged on – Progress 8 and Attainment 8 (pdf) – and where target grades come from.

Some of my long-standing colleagues wrote anonymously but furiously to a local newspaper that had also jumped on to the bandwagon rather than attempting to provide a more informed account.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has said that the new measurements for league tables can’t be compared to previous years because the government has “moved the goalposts”, and that the mixed grading system has complicated and changed how results are worked out.

Source: Secret Teacher: sensationalist headlines can do real damage to schools | Teacher Network | The Guardian

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