I'm now the Principal of a new Academy in a brand new building. It opened in September with 850 students. It's in quite a deprived inner city area in Bristol (England) with a largely white population (although approx. 30% of our students are from different ethnic minority groups - mainly Somalian). The predecessor school which was on the site (the old building is now demolished) was one of the lowest performing schools in Bristol with one of the highest exclusion rates.
My challenge as the head of this new Academy is to raise standards. I have targets (agreed by the DCSF) I must achieve within the next year or so. Unfortunately, the targets I have are based on GCSE (or equivalent) results. If I can reach national standards for the amount students who gain 5 A - C grades with English and Maths, everyone will be happy (especially my wife because my job will be secure) and the pressure will be off me for a bit.
I think I'll manage this (I hope I'm not tempting fate). I'll do it by being systematic with every student; by streamlining programmes of study; by making sure students are on appropriate courses; by taking students off courses they are not going to gain decent grade in and giving them more time in subjects such as Maths or English. I'll monitor and track them to the extent that I'll be able to tell you what they all had for breakfast two weeks earlier and how it affected their learning that day (maybe not). At the end of the day they will do fairly well and those who get their 5 A - C grades will troop along after they get their exam results and ask if they can start an A Level Programme. When they show me their certificate with 5 C grades, I'll tell them that they'll struggle and that I don't want to accept them, but I'll feel obliged to because they have reached the national benchmark which says they've achieved a Level 2 (5 GCSEs etc) and can now progress onto Level 3 courses (A levels etc). Unfortunately they won't manage at Level 3 (What's the drop out rate nationally - 50%?) because they've been pushed, cajoled and spoon fed all the way through their last few years of compulsory education.
And so a journey continues for these young people who think they are doing well because the certificates say so. They begin their A level courses (We always let them on in the end) and the same thing happens again when they apply to go to university. And so it goes on until they leave with their Degree, go to get a job and don't understand why the employer throws the book at them after their first day or if they are lucky they're enrolled onto an intensive training course by the company.
This sounds so cynical, but unfortunately it's happening up and down the country especially in inner city state schools, which are working with students who perhaps don't have the social advantages, skills or competencies, which give them the start they need in life.
Why aren't my targets based around:
- the development of good habits of learning?
- The development of the wherewithal to become flexible, independent learners?
- The extent to which my students will flourish in the 21st Century?
So for me it's not enough for young people to wave around certificates; I want the certificates to be a by-product on an education which really does develop the sustainable learner.