Tuesday, March 06, 2007

The return of the schools fools

I'm spitting blood and teeth here and I've got to let it out. I'll do my best to be coherent.

This time last year (tomorrow to the day) I published a post about First Born's choice of secondary school.

He started there in September and let me tell you - it's a brilliant school! He's on the gifted and talented programme, receives extra help for his dyslexia and is a loyal and enthusiastic ambassador for his school. G and I are active members of the Parents' Forum and have been amazed and impressed both by the incredibly high standards of teaching and the zero tolerance attitude to bullying and disruption - while at the same time they never write off a 'difficult' child but will always try to find out the underlying causes of such behaviour and support the child to redeem themselves. We feel totally vindicated in our decision to send FB there.

Last week my attention was drawn to a post on the local online forum dismissing the school in a way that suggested no sane person would send their child there.

I registered for the forum and posted this response.

My advice to the person canvassing opinion about secondary schools is - listen to no one! Every child is different and so is every school. What suits one will not suit all. Personally, we didn't feel 'A' was right for our son and neither did he. But that certainly doesn't make it a bad school.

My son is now - shock horror - at 'B'. Yes, you can Roll on the Floor Laughing Out Loud - but I wonder what evidence you are using to justify that reaction.

From our direct experience it is a truly wonderful school! It has fabulous resources (the equal of any of the private schools) and a totally dedicated and committed staff team. The education my son has received since September has surpassed our expectations. He is on the gifted and talented programme, receives additional support for his dyslexia and is a proud, loyal and enthusiastic ambassador for his school.

Unfortunately, the biggest problem 'B' faces is the continued negative perceptions based on the past that many people still have.

This is grossly unfair - on both the staff who have worked tirelessly to turn the school round (with spectacular success) and - even more importantly - on the children who go there and hear their school (and by association themselves) dismissed in this negative and patronising manner.

So please - don't listen to anyone else. Visit all the local schools. Go and see for yourself. Keep an open mind. And check 'B''s recent Ofsted report - it would be difficult to find a school praised higher by the inspectors than 'B'.

Oh and by the way ... there have been recent reports of children behaving appallingly in the streets, spitting and cursing. On further investigation, these turned out to be pupils at 'C' (a famous public school in the same area). And speak to the manager of the local Tesco. He will tell you that the problems he has with shoplifting have also been down to 'C' pupils. Unfortunately, their uniform is very similar to 'B''s. How very sad that most people will automatically assume that if they see bad behaviour on the streets, the culprits will be from 'B'.

I've been following the thread since and making further comments. And I'm delighted to say that the response has been great with several people checking the Ofsted report and saying they now accept the school has turned around.

But then (spit ... spit ...) I found this in the local paper. The headline is 'Stab Drama at School'. The report is of an incident of two youths being stabbed last week by a gang outside the school. It happened during the evening (although the school was open at the time for GCSE awards night). Six men had been arrested and were still in custody.

And that should have been the end of the story, yeah? Only then the report went on to mention an incident 4 years ago when a pupil at 'B' was attacked. And another - with salacious details about a 16" blade taken into class and used to knife a fellow pupil. This one took place 14 years ago! Yes - you read that right! 14 years ago!! So what on earth did that have to do with this latest incident? Especially as further down the report a council spokeswoman says that the recent incident did not involve pupils at the school!!!

I wrote to the paper to complain at their sensationalist and irresponsible reporting - the timing being doubly unfortunate as it coincides with the current year 6 pupils hearing which secondary school they have been allocated.

But there was more to come. At 3.30 I went into Little Guy's primary school to pick him up. There was a parent in the playground with a copy of the paper, stabbing it with an angry finger and waving round photocopies she was giving to other people. I assumed she was angry for the same reason as me. But no! Her son had been allocated 'B' as his school. She had seen the headline and photo of the school. She'd skimmed the article. And she leapt to the conclusion that this was evidence of the school's continuing association with violence.

So now I've made an appointment with the primary head tomorrow. I'll tell her she's welcome to distribute my name and phone no to any parents whose children had been allocated 'B' and were anxious. I'll be able to tell them the truth - that it's a fantastic school.

But my real fury is directed at the paper who perpetuates this slander.

But then again 'School's doing really well' or 'No bad news from excellent school' doesn't make for exciting headlines, does it?


Meloney Lemon said...

You must be, quite rightly fuming. The thing is these people come out of the woodwork every year to stir up trouble and negativity. Let them. You know the truth - so don't use up that valuable, creative energy being angry...stick these characters in a story/novel?

Unknown said...

The centre where I work still has a 'cloud' hanging over it after 50 years. Yes, that's what I said.

It started out as a day care place where women working in the munitions factory during the war, could leave their children all day. It gained a reputation after that for welcoming children of all backgrounds, disabilities and ethnicities etc, and has since been known as 'that special needs' place.
We didn't need an 'excellent' ofsted report to tell we are doing a good job. Why? We are on third and forth generations of the same families, all returning because of the solid ethos of the centre.

When looking for any type of establishment for your child, I would say there is only one rule. Ignore ofsted reports, ignore the league tables, make an appointment and go and see for yourself.

Btw, many schools that have been put on 'special measures' by ofsted in the past are often worth a good look. They will have been raised to standards well above those around them.
Debi, sounds like you have found a gem - there are very few of them around as most are too busy making sure their names are in the paper each week for all the wrong reasons!

Unknown said...

I can see why you are fuming Debi, but well done for being that parent who is willing to stick to their guns and give positive publicity. Yep it's all too easy to piss and moan about something (like papers do), but a lot harder to do what you are doing.

Steerforth said...

Good for you. It's heartening to hear of a state school that can cater for dyslexia. My seven-year-old son was diagnosed with dyslexia last year and we are going through hell.

The other night he was weeping into his pillow because he said he doesn't understand most of the lessons and keeps getting told off. No seven-year-old should have to feel anxious about school.

We've discussed his dyslexia the school and they have made all the right noises, but after a term and a half since diagnosis, all I can see is an unhappy and increasingly anxious little boy.

Debi said...

Meloney - I do have to use my energy combatting this nonsense - unfortunately. You know me - I can't just ignore this kind of thing. As for sticking them in a novel - you also know everything that happens in life is fuel for the creative output!

Minx - you're absolutely right about the only way to judge whether a school is right for your child is by seeing it with your own (open) eyes. My sympathies for the frustration you must feel re your ancient 'cloud' persisting no matter how unfair or unjustified.

V - thanks. I do feel a strong sense of responsibility but how much do I wish I didn't have to devote so much time and energy to dealing with people's preconceptions and ignorance?

Steerforth - that's heartbreaking. I'm so sorry to hear ... You have to push and push and push the school and not give up. If your son has a diagnosis he will be on school action +. This means they get extra £££ for him. You have to make sure they spend it on HIM and it doesn't just get absorbed into the general school coffers. He should be getting 1-1 support for AT LEAST 1 hour a week as well as specialist help eg phonographics, which will help him learn alternative techniques with his literacy. Drive them crazy! The earlier he gets help the better. FB's confidence took off after his diagnosis - and we all know that's a huge part of the battle. Good luck!

pundy said...

You're right to be indignant. Fight the good fight, debi - you know you have right on your side.

Cathy said...

My son has mild dyslexia. He left middle school on school action and went to the school of his choice, which just happened to have a good reputation for special needs.They were fully aware that he is a vulnerable child, in that he had the specific learnig difficulties, a ghistory of IBS and a severely disabled brother at home.

Just before he arrived the fantastic head left. I discovered at the end of his first year that the SENCO had taken him off the special needs register so he had received no help at all. Part way into his second year he had what was effectively a breakdown, has been suicidal and out of education for a year. The LEA can offer no innovative help, his self esteem is shattered and now the school wants to remove him from the roll ( even though he is now, of course on school action +).

If you are lucky enough to find a supportive school then you definitely are right to spread the word!

Debi said...

Cathy - this is devastating. I'm so so sorry to hear about your struggles. I can only hope that in spite of all the odds stacked against you and your son, you pull through and find a brighter future.

I wish you strength!

Unknown said...

Ay! Steerforth and Cathy's tales are heartbreaking. Please keep up the struggle Debi. It's not a hundred years ago when people thought it was word blindness. These children can be helped ... Oooh now I'm so mad.