It’s Parliamentary recess, but recess isn’t time off: it’s time to catch up and to work in the Constituency, carrying out all those visits which simply aren’t possible when Parliament is sitting four days a week.
One of the greatest privileges I have as MP for Wycombe is visiting our schools. In the past week, I have been to Highcrest, Cressex and a nearby school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. My overriding impression is the dedication of teachers who are transforming children’s lives and futures, often against a background of intense need.
For an example of the brilliance of our local teachers and schools, consider this article in The Times:
When you arrive at the gates of Highcrest Community School in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, there are few clues to why locals once called it “the prison on the hill”. Pupils in smart blazers sit chatting quietly on the grass verge, while others do last-minute revision in the shade of trees during their lunch break.
After years as a notorious sink school, Hatters Lane School changed its name, was turned into a specialist science and technology college and is now one of the best schools in England for improving its pupils’ chances.
It was no mean feat: 43 per cent of [Shena Moynihan’s] pupils have special needs; 51 per cent speak English as a second language; 32 languages are spoken in the school and 42 per cent of pupils are listed as coming from the most deprived areas in England. The local area, known for gangs and drugs, is one in which whole families have antisocial behaviour orders slapped on them.
This is the context in which local teachers do so much to help young people succeed. In cases of the most intense need and the greatest individual and collective transformation, our teachers are nothing less than heroes, year after year.
Unfortunately, school league tables let them down. Given that the grammar school system leaves the upper schools without those pupils likely to achieve the highest academic results, it is not surprising that upper schools can deliver brilliant results for their pupils and yet appear near the bottom of academic league tables.
I went to a comprehensive school, graduating in the final year of the old ‘O’-level/CSE system. The school streamed pupils, with sets 1-3 taking ‘O’-levels and sets 4-7,8 or 9 taking CSEs. That was necessarily divisive and, had the ‘O’-level streams been removed from the two good comprehensives in St Austell, I don’t doubt they would have looked pretty awful in simplistic league tables which suit the press and politicians talking in soundbites.
Where does this leave us? Someone must do better but, on the whole, I think it’s politicians and the press who need to improve, not excellent teachers whose success is masked by institutional bias and over-simplification. I support our superb and indispensable grammar schools but I am sure we need to find a way to express the success of our differently brilliant upper schools too.