At today’s visit is to Quintin Kynaston Academy, located just around the corner from Abbey Road Studios, it was wonderful to have students greeting and talking to us as we signed in at the school. Students sharing their school and being proud of their learning environment is always an exciting way to see a school. These students were very eager to talk and chat as they showed us around the school.
After the tour we had the opportunity to see some specific areas of the school such as the young carers group. This group of KS3 & 4 students are carers of parents with mental illnesses who meet weekly to talk about strategies, share frustrations and develop awareness across the school. The self referred group has 8 students today and they are open and articulate about why they are there. It was lovely to see students who are forgotten by a system such as this getting support not only from their school but their peers too.
I also had an opportunity to see the Aspire unit at the school. This unit is similar to a Pupil Referral Unit but sits within the school. Students are referred to a PRU if they are excluded or unable to attend mainstream school where they can receive a more tailored and personalised program and some of the students here are referrals such as these from outside schools but can also come from within the school. What makes this unique is the fact that the referral unit is attached to the school and classes are taught by mainstream teachers. In Aspire students work in small numbers with teachers and support staff towards 5 GCSEs with two optional subject areas such as construction, hospitality or art.
I could see they were very passionate about offering opportunities for students but I find I am second guessing the school’s motives. Is it really the students they have in mind when developing these programs or is it about the money. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to appear to be putting down schools and teachers and I don’t for a minute think that teachers are thinking money but that it the effect the policy in this country has.
Our second visit for the day cements my thinking about the pressures on schools with the push towards marketisation of education and academy schools. At our visit to the Jack Petchey Academy they explain they were one of the original new labor academies set up in 2006 to replace the failing Kingsland School with new buildings.
The idea of closing a school and starting a new one in exactly the same location to improve education intrigues me. I wonder how many of the students who attended the school before the closure of Kingsland school are still enrolled at the school. I know that as a Labour Academy they would be able to select 10% of the students based on the specialisation of Health, Care and Medical Science as to change the socio economic standing of the school. It would be interesting to see how long the school was closed for, where the students went in the meantime and how many of the original students returned to the school when it reopened.
This visit certainly got the conversation going in our group. Many were upset with the amount of testing that was done. And it seemed they were very proud of testing their students every three weeks and completing ‘Mocksteds’ whereas to many of us that is not what education is about. The school seemed to be very strict and rules were enforced tightly. I have always had a belief of education being a better method than adding rule after rule. It appeared here that there were a lot of rules enforcing what they believe students needed for their work life but I would question whether they are learning or just becoming compliant.
The fact that the sponsor could decide on some rules within the school worried me. It was mentioned that Jack Petchey is a great sponsor and although he is interested in the school he does not enforce them to do anything, except for the rule about no chewing gum. So although in this instance Jack Petchey doesn’t make the rules the system is set up that it is possible for sponsors to decide on the values, rules and the way the school is run.
A common theme of the academies we visited was their use of language to describe functions within the school. On speaking to the deputy at Petchey I asked about using principal instead of head teacher. She said she felt it sounded better and more “businessy.” It is interesting that they found it was a good thing to be using business speak in their school. They also used words like line manager, deploy and secure, demonstrating the changing face of schools.
Once again there is no blaming the school for this but this is the repercussion of the system in place. In listening to the school they are passionate about offering the best possible opportunities for students but they are surrounded by a system which promotes competition and testing.