Ever since I attended the Angry Parent meeting at St Anselm's church a few months ago, and compiled the list of schools and their recent Ofsted reports, I've been getting a lot more hits from people searching for local primary schools. It made me wonder whether the subject matter of my area coverage was unbalanced. I write a considerable amount on planning, but very little on the arts (community meetings seem to squeeze out theatre trips, but I've tried to address arts via the new calendar), and a lot on community groups, but very little on education... I thought it might be worth redressing the balance every so often...
One particularly impressive part of the Angry Parents meeting was the fact that two members of staff from Henry Fawcett Primary School showed up and spoke about the measures that they'd put in place to bring their school out of Special Measures. I thought it was a particularly brave move, at a meeting set up for parents who were concerned about their being enough places at "good" local schools to meet the needs of their children. Consequently, it seems timely to note a document on the Henry Fawcett home page that demonstrates the steps they took to bring the school out of those measures in a very short time. From that document, we learn that there's been a complete restructuring of staff, a new curriculum, the implementation of a database to monitor students' progress, report cards for misbehaving children, new sports coaches at lunch time, improved lesson planning etc. etc. Wow. Fantastic work!
Also, I wondered whether it was possible for parents and neighbours to learn what was happening at their children's schools locally. St Mark's C of E school do have a rather slow website, but that doesn't look as though it has been updated since 2005! Crampton Primary School have a website whose "recent" newsletter hasn't been updated since 2006. [Edit 11/2/2011: Vauxhall Primary School have a new website.] Walnut Tree Walk have a promising website with little content. Charlotte Sharman share the same website host as St Mark's which is slow to load and hasn't been updated since 2007/8. St Anne's Roman Catholic Primary appear to have no website. Lilian Baylis Technology School have a site, but it's down (I'll check again in the morning). Henry Fawcett have a bright website, which is only a few months out of date, and last updated approx. July 2010. Archbishop Tenisons School have a website updated this month and Archbishop Sumner Primary School have a website that was last updated in October. I wanted to make this post one about the positive news of local schools, but it will seem too biased if I do so without including a full range of schools.
I don't think it's a coincidence that Archbishop Sumner also have outstanding Ofsted results. It's not true to say that the website makes the school, but it might be true to say that if you have within the school the resources (be that staff, parents or friends) to create and update a website, then you have the voluntary capacity required to run an outstanding school. The problem is (and this is my uninformed guess), that many (not all, but many) parents with money and resources wish to send their children to Archbishop Sumner. I'm not making this up, because this fact became clear at the meeting earlier on this year. The parents at that meeting (95% middle class, professional, and, incidentally, white) wished to see that school expanded. However, unless parents choose to run their own free schools (can't see Lambeth Council being excited by that idea), the likelihood of the school structure changing in its entirety is low. The difficulty is trying to figure out how to share and spread levels of high attainment.
School staff (at least, according to the news) have to work longer hours, teach children with English as a second language in schools where multiple languages are spoken, provide discipline where parents fail, subject children to continual SATs testing, satisfy the demands of the National Curriculum and stay sane. Maybe it's not their job to create and maintain websites. There's a possibility that website are unnecessary when parents speak to teachers at the school gates, and newsletters always make it home in children's bags. Should schools be producing websites and keeping the wider public informed of local education? I don't know. Is this the task of the Local Education Authority? Maybe, but how will they know exactly what's happening in a school? Is it their task, in an era of "shrink the state" governance? It seems to me that maybe it's the task of school governors, but they have to ensure children are safeguarded, enable a school to support children with Special Educational Needs, decide on policies of exclusion and manage the staff in a school, all in an unpaid capacity. It doesn't leave much time for managing a website. It seems that perhaps it's the task of the parents, but when one IT-savvy parent's child leaves a school, the website could be abandoned.
School websites are a small and insignificant matter that simply demonstrate commitment. Updating people with news is one of the ways that schools can appeal to the wider community and share their joys and concerns. Sharing news and enabling local "ownership" of services is part of creating the Big Society, right? The absence of up to date news from schools feeds into fears that I have concerning our impending Big Society. The volunteer culture needed to update school websites is precisely the volunteer culture required to visit the elderly when the State is forced out through spending cuts. Some people will argue that it should never have been the State's job in the first place. I'm agnostic on that matter. But even if it isn't the State's job, a sudden removal of front line carers and visitors is not going to create a situation where volunteers are immediately able to fill the breach. If that were the case, all of our schools would have up-to-date websites.
Thursday - Alarm clock failure for first thing on Thursday morning. Whoops. Hurrah for the kitten call in my face at 6am. I made the train in good time. It was a morn...
14 hours ago