13 Jun 2013

Schools under pressure for underperforming

It’s an incendiary topic at the school gates – does the state system  do enough for “able” pupils or those once officially called, in a neatly divisive term “the gifted and talented”. (Suck it up the rest of you ordinary and talentless kids?)

Today the answer came from the head of Ofsted, former super head, Sir Michael Wilshaw. His conclusion is that too many of the most able children and young people are underperforming in non-selective secondary schools.

According to the report, two thirds of high attaining pupils leaving primary school with level 5 in the end of school SAT tests in English and Maths are not achieving an A* or A grade in those subjects when they sit their GCSEs.

It also revealed that just over a quarter of those previously high performers don’t achieve a B grade in at least two of the A level subjects required by many of the best universities.

In an interview on the Today programme this morning, Sir Michael was, as always, full of passion and sounded genuine in his commitment to improving things – not least for those children who are from disadvantaged backgrounds.

But I was left rather stumped by one part of his interview.

In a revelatory tone  Sir Michael explained that many more students from the independent sector and grammar schools are ending up going to the top universities  than pupils from the comprehensive system. Really? So far so very unsurprising.

He then went onto say that he was determined to see non selective comprehensives do as well as independent  and selective schools.

It’s easy to talk about low expectations in state schools and here I think, in some cases he’s right.

I remember telling the careers adviser at my own school that I wanted to be a journalist. She looked a bit perplexed before handing me a leaflet on “How to be a librarian” and sending me on my way.

But Sir Michael knows suggesting that non selective comprehensives can easily compete with selective schools (and would if only they’d pull their finger out) is simply not comparing like with like.

If it were, parents wouldn’t be tutoring their children to within an inch of their lives for entrance exams and then paying thousands a term for the privilege of taking up their hard won place.

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