With the publication of the so-called ‘schools league tables’ last week we could expect the usual ‘shock horror’ in the press. Of course, the Government doesn’t publish anything as crude as ‘league tables’ but just the data that local and national media can then pick over and construct tables or unearth information in statistical form that might – or might not – help us to be better informed. Since the 1990s a vast wealth of data has been available for schools and much of the analysis of success and failure so rife in our system is based on ‘crunching’ those numbers, making comparisons across schools and across time.
One piece of information that emerged was that 200 school sixth forms failed to get one student with enough A level points to enable entry to a top university. To which the correct response is ‘So what?’ The wringing of hands that predictably followed this revelation assumed, no doubt, that a) all A level students should aspire to mortgage their future for the sake of a university place which may (or may not) put them in line for a ‘good job’ and b) that students in these schools had the sort of GCSE profile that meant they ought to have been able to achieve a top A level grade.
More interesting for some of us was the revelation that 200 schools (no, not the same 200!) failed to reach what is bizarrely called the government’s ‘floor target’ of 40% of students getting five or more GCSEs at Grade C or above (including English and Maths – for brevity in the education world it’s called ‘5+EM’). The media have helpfully glossed this data with the information that these schools are now in line to be turned into academies. The ultimate fate/punishment or, if you are so-minded, the ultimate solution. If you’ve tried everything else, the argument goes, if you want to improve a school, turn it into an academy. The REALLY interesting information, of course, is that 60 of those so-called ‘failing schools’ ARE academies. So, the possibilities are intriguing: is there some kind of super-academy (‘conservatoire’?) into which these failing academies can be turned? Or is it the act of turning them into something else that is thought to be efficacious, in which case do they get turned back into ‘community schools’ (as ‘ordinary schools’ are still, technically, called)? Perhaps they are put in the hands of The Receiver, like poor old Comet or HMV.
Michael Gove’s belief in the transformational power of ‘academies’ puts one in mind of the child in the panto audience, willing Tinkerbell not to die. “Do you believe in fairies, Michael?”