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23 Mar 2012

Choice. What choice?

Successive governments have gone on and on about giving choice to the people – notably in where they have their hips replaced and where their children are educated. Wearily, year after year the people reply that they’re not so fussed about choice but it would be good if they could trust their local hospital and nice if the school they can walk to could teach their children properly.

Now we have the latest figures on how many children have places at their first choice of school. The situation is at its worst in London and, in some boroughs, children have places at none of the six schools they chose. Some London primaries have had new classes bolted on to individual year groups making for overcrowding and under-resourcing. And we are promised a population bulge in the 11 plus age group over the next few years. Did anyone notice Mr Osborne coming up with help for schools? On the contrary, we are promised further cuts in local authority budgets and public spending in this area. Mr Osborne wants ‘growth’. Young people cannot find jobs and we are underinvesting in state education to an increasingly alarming degree. Choice? What choice?


19 Mar 2012

Dead and not so dead?

We are noticing a strange and revealing trend. Latin is back – big time – and not just in stuffy little prep schools. The new West London Free School insists on Latin for all and Latin can now be found on the timetables of schools of all kinds around the country. No longer need parents of university classicists ask, ‘but will it get you a job?’ – they can teach it everywhere.

But concurrently, modern foreign languages are struggling in the independent sector. Whereas the advent of the English Baccalaureate is increasing the uptake of languages in state schools to GCSE level at least, the independents – most of whom have long insisted on all pupils taking a language to 16 – are failing to convince them that a language is a necessary asset in the sixth form and beyond.

You may think it paradoxical – you can’t actually travel anywhere and ask the way to the station in Latin while French, German, Spanish, Russian etc are still spoken here and there. So will the new takers of languages in our state schools continue beyond GCSE? Will we see languages long-folded away under dust-sheets being shaken down and emerging bright-eyed and eager to new enthusiasts? And why have languages so fallen out of favour? Is it just that English is spoken in most places we are likely to visit and therefore our young people feel they don’t have to bother? Or is it that their fee-paying parents no longer see the virtue of learning a language – except Latin, that is?

So should we give up trying to teach living languages in our schools beyond the compulsory stages? Or would that be the height of blinkered arrogance?


11 Mar 2012

Unnecessary entrance tests

I visited a highly academic school last week – a top girls’ school with its own onsite junior school. They have recently done away with entrance exams for girls coming up from the junior school. They trust their own assessments and if a girl is likely not to be able to thrive confidently in the senior school, they tell the parents half way through year 5 and then help them find somewhere less challenging. No-one is debarred from sitting the entrance test but, in general, those advised to look elsewhere don’t make the grade. The head feels that having this hurdle stopped the whole school feeling like one community. How sensible! Why don’t others schools do the same? Why subject pupils you see every day and must know inside out to a needless additional trial which shouldn’t teach you anything new about them?


04 Mar 2012

The Good Schools Guide Educational Consultants Blog

Well – this is where we start. The Good Schools Guide Educational Consultants – like The Guide itself – is independent and unconstrained by being paid by or accountable to anyone other than the parents we write for and whom we try to assist as they battle through the education jungle that has somehow grown all over the UK. This blog will be similarly independent and will reflect life – as we find it – out there in the world of parents who want – and how hard it seems to be – the best for their children. We will rant – but we hope, also, to celebrate – and we hope you will cheer and jeer as you feel fit.

Just at present we feel sad on behalf of those children who have sat exams to selective schools – state and independent – and who have not gained the places they and their parents hoped for. There will be other opportunities to look at the situation in depth and discuss the rights and wrongs in detail. For today – and to close this, our first venture into the world from this vantage point, – we ask – is there not something seriously wrong when some schools are over-subscribed by 12 or more for each place and others that parents dread and move home to avoid?

 

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