I was a panellist on Radio Four’s
"http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01g65tg">Any Questions last night, in Bedworth outside Coventry. At the reception afterwards, I got talking to the pupils, teachers and even the local vicar of
the school where the show was recorded. With so much gloom (and shambles) in Westminster, it was a heartening reminder of what is going right in Britain, aided by David Cameron’s government.
I thought I’d share it with CoffeeHousers.
Not so long ago, Ash Green School was seeing a pathetic 3 per cent of its pupils achieve what is now called ‘Five Good GCSEs’ (5 GCSEs at A-Cs,
including English & Maths). Now it’s 65 per cent. Success has many fathers but the pupils I spoke to afterwards credit this to the headmaster of three years, Andrew Clay, and his deputy
headmaster of seven years, Michael Rennie. The school reached for Academy status in February. I got speaking to a 16-year-old pupil who told me that four years ago he was flunking exams –
getting Ds and Es – and concluded he just wasn’t the academic type. But as the school radically improved, so did his grades and he’s now getting As and Bs. He has decided to stay
on at sixth form, which is only now an option because, as an Academy, Ash Green can use its freedoms to set up a sixth form (which the local authority had previously resisted). There are surplus
places within Warwickshire, and bureaucrats hate expanding good schools if there are places to fill in bad ones.
The 16-year-old whom I spoke to is a bright kid. He has sound views on criminal justice, with which he was confronting Phillipe Sands QC after the show. He feels his life opportunities have just
got brighter, and he can now finish school at the school which inspires him thanks to this government’s policies. He’ll join its first-ever Year 12 in the autumn.
Asking around last night, I gathered that Andrew Clay took a fair bit of stick when he took over Ash Green and tried to accelerate its recovery, which included confronting underperforming teachers.
They went to the unions, who sharpened their knives. Before too long, Clay was being accused of making teachers cry and running a ‘dictatorial regime’ — this when his school
was by ranked the 4th highest improvements in England. He was described in the local press as a bully who made staff cry, "http://www.thefreelibrary.com/'TEACHERS+ARE+BEING+LEFT+LIKE+BATTERED+WIVES'.-a0226433110">in a story choc full of disobliging quotes by teaching unions. Trying to turn around a school means
making enemies, getting flak and is — overall — one of the toughest jobs in the world. Certainly one of the most socially valuable.
You can argue about the relative value to society of bankers or journalists. But a teaching team who improve a school as fast as Ash Green’s pupils have been helped? Priceless.
UPDATE: Frothy, you’re right, the success of Ash Green school is 100 per cent due to the hard work of teachers and pupils and 0 due to Cameron’s government. But nature of
Conservative reform is that it transfers powers from government to teachers, doctors, etc – so the successes of Conservative governments usually lies in what these empowered people then do. In this
case, the Academies Act 2010 allowed Ash Green to become an Academy, then use these powers open a sixth form and expand its successful model. Before, its expansion would have been vetoed by the
local authority, which is annoyed at not being able to fill places in unpopular schools. Bureaucrats want to move pupils as you might the pieces on a chessboard. The Gove revolution (started by
Blair/Adonis) wanted to empower the parents and kids. And yes, the turnaround started under the previous headmaster, so the incumbent was simply building on success. His deputy (who has been there
for seven years) has a big hand in this too. That’s why I referred to teaching teams: with the greatest success story, it always is a team. Never an LEA bureaucracy.