Sunday, July 10, 2005

D- For Effort

D- For Effort

The first that we knew about Obi 3's school's impromptu appearance on national television was in a letter from the school itself. Just to inform us that they were taking legal action to try and stop the programme in order to protect the children who were on the footage. A few days later they sent another letter, this time providing parents with a list of solicitors should they want to pursue the matter themselves. It seemed they'd rather missed the point.

On the programme itself the school was the second of the two Leeds schools. Its introduction came in the form of the supply teacher having been told that she was being sent to a "challenging school". Cue footage of two of my brother's classmates wrestling each others' heads off whilst around them children climbed over the tables. Welcome to John Smeaton.

As it was the school came off better than two of the others in that it was given a fairly sympathetic hearing and none of the teachers were on film insulting the pupils. The issue of enquiry seemed to be why, in what is a predominantly middle class area, there exists what is effe ctively a 'sink school'. The answer, as any local resident can tell you, is that most local children do not go there. They pulled out when its 1,200 pupils became a heady mix of two schools that the education thought it best to close down. Neither myself or my sister went there despite it being by far the closest school to our house. Given that our school wasn't an option for my brother - unless he swapped gender overnight - there was a long process of deliberation over my brother. When it became clear that our proximity to the school in question would rule out the over-subscribed 80% GCSE school slightly further away and the only other possible school being closed and merged with a failing school as of this September, the patter of John Smeaton's new headmaster combined with Obi 3's desire to follow some of his friends there led to his application. I think it's a decision we've all come to regret.

As the footage showed the school has an incredibly high proportion of students with either behavourial or educational special needs. It even merits extra funding for this reason. But soemthing has gone wrong. There's a reason why the John Smeaton uniform gets funny looks from neighbouring residents. And the new headmaster seems to have succeeded in doing nothing other than obsess over the new building the school's going to get in five years time. But buildings don't change schools.

I'm someone who's incredibly passionate about state education. Maybe it's a product of all that public-school Oxford-ness I've witnessed. The level of diversity - on every level possible - that I'd encountered by the time I hit 18 far outweighed many of my Oxford peers. I also know there are some incredible teachers out there - I was lucky enough to come into contact with some of them. A couple in particular I owe a bit of the person I am today to. But if I'm some passionate advocate for all of the good things that go on in state education, I've also seen its failures. John Smeaton, it is clear, is failing its pupils. Obi 3 finds school hard on a level I'll never be able to grasp but he certainly isn't getting the help he requires. It's almost as if the school stops trying. Only the top sets are given homework. The fact that Obi 3 was truanting wasn't picked up on for nearly two months. It's taken literally hours of parental pushing to try and get something done. If he seems to be in school now I'm not convinced he's learnt much this year. Which I find deeply sad.

Maybe, rather than issuing false statements to the production company which paint a picture that doesn't exist or pursuing notions of child protection in relation to video footage, the school should look to itself and try and learn lessons. Acknowledge the fact that it has serious issues, rather than shying away from them. But it won't. Which is possibly the saddest thing about it all.

1 comment:

Penny said...

One of the reasons I'm leaving Leeds in the next few years is that our kids would end up at Intake. Er, great. The general state of Leeds state schools is why so many kids from Leeds ended up at our over-subscribed "beacon school" in Harrogate - which we had to fight to get into rather than fall into one of the less popular rough schools (not as bad as Leeds schools, but still...) or the rural option where the behaviour wasn't terrible but the level of achievement was low. Can't afford private education - you have to move house.