The 2010 Achievement and Attainment Tables published by the Department for Education on 10 January show that most of the borough’s secondary schools have improved on the previous year’s GCSE results, with for the first time, 50% of students gaining 5 or more A*-C grades, including English and Maths – an increase of 4% on the results for 2009.
However a private tutor who has helped hundreds of students gain improved grades says the performance of the town’s school – and more broadly the country’s education system – is unimpressive.
David Parkinson who runs Aspire Tuition – www.aspiretuition.co.uk – said, "clearly 50 per cent of students – half of all exam takers – achieving the government set target of achieving 5 A* to C GCSEs including English and Maths is evidence of an education system that is in crisis.
"We are very concerned that the scrapping of Key Stage 3 SATs has deprived parents of guidance on their child’s progress. The removal of KS3 SATs was supposed to allow schools more time to concentrate on preparing all students for GCSE. If what I suspect above is true, then all that seems to have happpened is that the schools have used the time to cherry pick the best candidates to pour extra resources into so that they can pass the exam early and make the results look better. This could well account for the dramatic improvements in some schools as against others.
"The KS3 Sats were supposed to have been replaced with ‘warts and all’ internal report cards which would have given parents exactly the same information as the SATs exams. This is clearly not the case. If it were, we at Aspire would have expected a similar number of parents approaching us for extra help at the end of year 9 so that their children can be helped to catch up. This has not taken place.
"The result of stopping SATs in Year 9 SATs is that parental rights to be kept informed and to choose whether or not to provide extra help to struggling students has been removed. In a system that is managing to fail 50% of students – this cannot be healthy."
David, pictured with his wife and business partner Andrea above, has written to Swindon’s two MPs Robert Buckland and Justin Tomlinson who are pictured right with youngsters attending Aspire in July 2010. The text of his letter:
12 January 2011
Dear Robert & Justin
You will both no doubt have heard the official GCSE result for Swindon for 2010. There has been some improvement, which is good, but the official figures for maths do mask the fact that many of the students who achieved C and above passes have had the benefit of sitting the exam in a modular form and of resitting modules they have failed. Some of the students will also have sat some exams earlier (from Year 9 onwards) allowing them more time to concentrate on (and therefore do comparatively better in) other subjects. It is therefore clear that we are not comparing like with like (year on year) and that any improvements must be viewed in this light. The official figures need to be made much clearer and take into account these factors if we are ever to know whether educational standards are actually improving or statistics are just being juggled.
In response to criticism that 50% of students did not achieve the previous Government standard of 5 A* to C GCSEs including English and Maths, some educationalists are pointing to the fact that it is not all the fault of schools. I support this view wholeheartedly. The role of parents in education is fundamental to success and I don’t believe that that there is enough said about this by politicians of all political creeds. All parties seem happy to lay the blame firmly at the educational establishment’s door and set ever stringent performance parameters without paying any real attention to the key issue of parental involvement. Variations in parental involvement partially explain why over reliance on school league tables as a measure of relative school performance is unwise.
There is an overriding temptation for parents who have performed poorly in schools themselves to have very limited expectations of their offspring. I have lost count of the number of parents who have said to me “Oh, I was poor at maths at school so that’s where s/he (the child) gets it from." They sometimes even use this as an excuse not to give the child extra tuition! Parents who adopt this attitude create a climate of failure for the child from a very early age which is difficult for them to ever break out of. Such attitudes are then perpetuated from generation to generation.
A recent BBC News report "Is there a genius in all of us?" highlights the dangers of this poverty of expectation with numerous reputable academics pointing out that educational performance is a product of both genetics and environment (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-12140064). In my view, Government needs to seize on this point with a national drive to remove the myth that poor educational performance is a genetic trait. Parents need to be encouraged to do all they can to help their child succeed by supporting schools and looking to help their child with extra (out of school) tuition, where necessary and where it can be afforded. Extra Tuition has been a central pillar to the creation of the highly skilled workforces of India and the Far East where many children go to school and then continue on to their tutor. This country needs to similarly embrace and value its extra tuition providers if it is to create a workforce that will continue to compete in a global market place.
Central to the embracing of extra tuition is the need for much greater transparency of performance of children at every stage of their education. Not all that long ago, parents could get an independent picture of their child’s performance as a result of KS1 (Year 2), KS2 (Year 6) and KS 3(Year9) SATs. KS1 SATs have now been replaced by internal teacher assessment and KS3 SATs should now have been replaced by ‘warts and all’ report cards. When the KS1 and KS3 SATs were in place, my business used to get a regular trickle of KS1 and KS3 students coming to us for extra help as a result of their performance in those exams. Now that it has been left to the schools to do the assessing, those students are not coming. I do not believe that educational ability in KS1 or KS3 has suddenly improved since the removal of the tests so that such students do not need extra help. My business continues to holds a similarly prominent place in the extra tuition market in Swindon, our word of mouth is good and we would expect to get a similar number of students if parents thought that the extra tuition was necessary.
It therefore seems that the only logical explanation for the non-appearance of such students is that parents are no longer being adequately informed (as they were by the SATs results) and that their ability to know and support their child educationally has been eroded
If parents are to be encouraged to help their child, then they need to have accurate performance information from schools. Fundamental to this is some form regular independent assessment. A school report seen from one side is a measure of how well a child is doing in school but from the other side it is a report on how well the child is taught or, put another way, how well the teacher is doing his or her job. The dangers of relying on a report which anybody writes about their own performance without regular independent checks need not be elaborated on.
I would be grateful if you could both let me have your thoughts on the above and, if you share my views, perhaps encourage Mr Gove to take them on-board when he maps-out future education policy.
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