As the rain continues to pour down outside, it is hard to imagine that the sun is ever going to shine again. So I spare a thought whilst writing this for my friends and colleagues teaching on the Somerset levels and the pupils in some of their villages who have not been able to go to school since Christmas and know at least that miserable as the weather is, it could be a lot worse.
The sun has however been shining metaphorically on Uffculme School and once again when the league tables were published in January, we stood out as the top performing comprehensive school in Devon. Much is being made at the moment of the state vs private school debate and it seems so fashionable at the moment to knock state schools, to denigrate their achievements and to blame teachers for not being tough enough, working hard enough, building character enough or solving all of society’s problems. We are told that our very good results aren’t actually good results borne of hard work and dedicated teaching but are the consequences of gaming and “playing the system”. We are told that our pupils are unemployable and that we don’t build independence, resilience or a work ethic unlike our colleagues in the private sector. Apparently we need to be more like private schools – except of course without the £30,000 a year per pupil.
However all of us here at Uffculme know that this is utter rubbish. I would like to say to Mr Gove, “Come to Uffculme”. Come and see our polite, hardworking and ambitious young people. Stay beyond 3.30 and watch how the car park fills from 5.00pm onwards with parents picking children up from revision classes, sporting fixtures, after school clubs and music and drama rehearsals. Come along on results day in August and tell our students that their hard work and excellent achievements don’t really count.
We know that a comprehensive school can be everything a private school is and more. We too can deliver excellent teaching, high expectations and quality personal development but we can also do it in a strong, cohesive and diverse community where young people from all kinds of backgrounds can mix and make friends. I don’t wish to run my colleagues in private schools down but just because you pay for something, it doesn’t necessarily make it better. The private sector does not have a monopoly on sport, culture, the arts and strong values and we don’t need the league tables to tell us this.
So while it rains outside, we try to ignore the educational storms brewing at Whitehall and get on with the job of doing the absolute best we can for the young people of Uffculme School and continue to hope and expect that it is good enough.