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8:10am Thursday 19th April 2012 in Letters
Sir – Further to letters (passim) on the apparently lemingesque tendency of so many schools to accede to academy (Government) school status, as the premier solution to school improvement, please allow me to illuminate what the main evidence actually shows on this important matter.
I, of course, recognise that your newspaper has no aspiration to be an academic journal, but the simplest reference for your readers is the work of John Hattie who has summarised more than 50,000 studies over the last 15 years.
We thus know that the greatest variation in quality and standards occurs within and not between schools. It is what teachers do that matters (the best become learners of their own teaching).
The curriculum needs to provide opportunities for all that balance between surface and deep understanding. It is clear that the new ‘national’ curriculum will focus on ‘basics’ leaving room for all teachers to be properly creative and autonomous in their teaching (much of the current ‘national’ curriculum is no more than ‘guidance’ anyway). Everything that a Government school can do in these respects can be done by any school.
The home either nurtures and supports the achievement of children or it does not. Pupil’s background is not an ‘excuse’ — it is the overwhelming predictive factor in how they perform in school (at the most a school makes 10 per cent difference to a pupil’s results).
Any properly committed ‘community’ school will be seeking to extend its efforts into the home.
Breaking the link between background and achievement is the key. With the DfE alone spending £4m per week promoting the academy/free school programme (133 civil servants are currently working on ‘free schools’ — of which there are currently 24) it is clear that the totally unnecessary promotion of ‘Government’ schools is a misconstrued politicised distraction from the readily available evidence on school improvement; it is a terrible diversion from the real challenges of achievement for our most disadvantaged families.
Only when the issues confronting teaching, learning and parenting are properly supported will our schools and their teachers be enabled to do the jobs that they surely want to do.
Frank Newhofer, Oxford