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Every school can be a good school

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(BSMG) Liban ObsiyeIn a country that spends billions of pounds on education every year and where expenditure on education has been steadily rising since 1997, it is very sad to see that many parents still feel that there are some bad schools that they should not send their children to. This year while many more children were accepted in to their first choice secondary schools, the numbers that were not still remains significant in many parts of the country. Many parents are now in the process of appealing the decisions by the Local Authorities or Academies which they hope to send their children to but given the fact that most of these are oversubscribed; there is a very slim chance that they will succeed.

At a time of unprecedented public sector budget cuts it is only natural for parents to be worried about their family’s futures and considering that a good education is seen by many of them as the key to their children’s future success, it is understandable that they want to appeal in order to get their children admission to the schools that they feel will best support them and provide them with the best possible education.

Parents now have access to a great amount of data about individual schools in their areas and are easily able to compare their strengths and weaknesses. Since the introduction of school league tables schools have been in competition to attract the brightest and best students to bolster their academic standings. This inevitably created winners and losers in the schools admissions process which today has resulted in some schools been oversubscribed whilst others struggle to remain open. 

This market orientated school system is now to be further entrenched as the new Coalition government is urging local authority run schools to become academies in order to be independent of the bureaucratic management style and leadership of the local authorities. Schools are been tempted away from local authority control with the promise of greater freedom to manage their own affairs in all areas from recruitment of staff and their pay to the curriculum they teach. In addition the Conservative education minister, Michael Gove, has announced that he wants schools to focus on the key subjects which they will be judged on in the league tables in the future which are mathematics, English, sciences, languages and humanities and this has made parents more anxious about getting admissions to a “traditionally good” school as one parent put it that excels in the traditional subjects.

“Government schools struggle to attract good teachers to their schools. In fact my daughter has had more supply teachers in some subjects than she can remember.” One parent said. “If people can get their children to these good schools than they have a better chance of getting the good teachers to teach the key subjects.”

What is evident is that many parents have bought into this good school/bad school nonsense and that those on the right of the political spectrum have succeeded in convincing parents that they have a choice to what they deem to be a good education. However, with very few places at these so called good, well performing schools, what are the majority of the parents whose children did not get admission to these do?

Well they can go home and weep and resign themselves to the misguided belief that their children will not do well as a result of their schools or do something so that they support their children to succeed. Parents too often forget that they are the primary educators and that schools are nothing more than mere buildings with teachers in them. Many good local schools are been dragged into a competition that would not even be necessary if parents, students and schools worked together.

Many parents complain about poor school leadership and the current coalition government has promised to tackle this by allowing parents to set up their own schools if necessary. However, while good school leadership is crucial, the head teachers should not be treated like private sector Chief Executives whose duty it is to bring lucrative returns on investor’s investments. Rather they should be seen as the face of the school leadership but parents should be working with the schools in the background to create a learning environment that develops future leaders that local communities can be proud of.

The neoliberal education policies that threaten many schools are not new. In fact all Political Party’s today can be blamed for continuing and endorsing them since their inception. However, what it is not made clear is where the consumer, formerly parents, are suddenly going to find all these amazing successful schools where they have a choice of sending their children to. Will they appear from thin air? I doubt it.

The simple fact is that there are some struggling schools in our communities that we must work hard to improve collectively. With cuts to teaching and extracurricular support for students with special educational needs, it is fundamental that schools, parents and community groups work together to build trust and inspire students to achieve their full potential in these most difficult of times. Many community groups complain that some narrow minded school leaders operate in a hierarchical way that portrays community groups as a threat rather than a support mechanism. However, if this is the case, these school leaders may find that while they are in their offices trying to work out which part of their pyramid of hierarchy community groups fit in, their schools may be earmarked for closure.

Good inclusive school leadership, coupled with parental and community engagement, will inevitably result in successful local schools that communities can be proud of and rely on. Parents should not dessert local schools in times of difficulty and school leaders should not shut out external support service providers. The reality is that the majority of students are not going to get into these so called good schools because they are oversubscribed. However, what needs to be emphasised is that there are no bad schools. Schools are merely buildings. The interaction that takes place within them between all stakeholders is what makes some schools more successful than others.
 
Liban Obsiye libanbakaa@hotmail.com

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