Raising their sights

While the NZEI and PPTA celebrate mediocrity all around the world is working proof that their ways are the ways of failing and new ways and methods are successful. The unions are intent on providing only for themselves, professing they care for all students while shamefully neglecting 20% of their students.

Michael Gove in the UK is forcing change and one school in a hard hat area is making a difference.

Cicero said ‘a mind without instruction can no more bear fruit than a field, however fertile, without cultivation’. So it is perhaps fitting that his head is on pupils’ blazer badges at one of London’s newest and most audacious schools.

The immaculate uniform is just one thing the West London Free School has in common with other, better-known seats of learning. There is the rigorous discipline, too, as well as a focus on competitive sport, musical excellence, a house system and mandatory Latin.

But what’s truly surprising is that this isn’t a private, fee-paying school, or even one of the country’s surviving grammars, but funded by the taxpayer – and is non-selective. Here is a working example of Michael Gove’s vision of how a state school might be freed from central or local authority control.

If schools are to succeed we must break the hegemony of the teacher unions.

Nor is this just any free school: it was founded by author Toby Young, the most prominent of the campaigners for state-funded independent schools. His WLFS, opened last year by Mayor Boris Johnson, is the scheme’s flagship.

Education Secretary Gove’s encouragement of free schools is controversial. Some fear they will appeal only to the middle class and could undermine existing schools. But on this rare visit behind the scenes, Young was unapologetic about the school or its ethos, which is more akin to that of a prep school or old-fashioned grammar. After all, nine children chase each place.

The school is proud of its strict discipline: one boy was sent home for his hair being too short. The few who get in live in the catchment area or are drawn in a lottery, and enjoy what Young calls a ‘classical, liberal’ education.

Mobile phones are all but banned, classes are small and teachers wear black gowns on special occasions. Chewing gum earns a detention and there’s an hour’s homework daily. Attendance at after-school clubs is compulsory four days a week – subjects on offer include debating, drama, Mandarin and Arabic. The neat blazers, by the way, are supplied by Eton and Harrow’s outfitters.

Young refuses to accept that children from low-income and single-parent households or ethnic minorities should set their sights any lower than those from white, middle-class homes.

‘Too often schools make excuses for children, particularly children on free school meals, children from low-income families. We don’t do that,’ he says. ‘Critics said if you include Latin and expect children to do at least eight academic GCSEs you won’t have a single Special Education Needs applicant, but that has proved to be wrong.

As is usual, the opponents are proven wrong time and again.

‘We were also told that because of the classical liberal curriculum we would only attract rich, white children with educated, middle-class parents. Actually, 50 per cent of our intake have English as an additional language, and 35 per cent are black, Asian or minority ethnic. A quarter of our pupils are  eligible for free school dinners.

‘It is a really accurate microcosm of the area it is in, and that is one of the things parents single out – it is a comprehensive mix. Yes, we are attracting children whose parents would otherwise send them to fee-paying schools but we always set out to do that, as well as attracting the very poorest children in the community, because we want our school to be a genuine comprehensive.’

He adds: ‘We don’t have a boathouse, but we have high expectations of all the children.’

By having high expectations it raises everyone’s standards. Unfortunately the teacher unions have really low expectations, which is why they oppose almost every attempt to improve excellence.

Soon after the school opened, two children were temporarily excluded, one for fighting, one for stealing.

Then there was the case of 11-year-old Kai Fizzle, who was sent home after he came to school with a close haircut 3mm shorter than the rules allow. At the time, his mother Tania Scott said the school failed to understand Afro-Caribbean hair needed to be kept short to be easily manageable.

Young says: ‘We were criticised on the grounds that it was discriminatory because the boy in question was black and there were cultural differences to account for, but we thought that was nonsense. You can’t have one rule for the white boys and another for the black boys.

‘One of the reasons Afro-Caribbean boys underachieve is because schools don’t have the same expectations of them and don’t hold them to the same standards as other ethnic groups. At our school we hold every child to the same high standards. What is unusual about our school isn’t that we have strict rules, but that we enforce them. Quite often in school they will have an elaborate code of conduct, but they just won’t enforce it, and that sends a very bad message to children.

‘We have just as many challenging children as the local community schools but they know we have a fairly strict code of conduct and we are not frightened to enforce it.’

Happily, Kai has continued at the school – with regulation-length hair – and Young says he is ‘thriving’. He adds: ‘If you create a well-ordered, structured environment, that makes it easier for children to learn, especially if you have zero tolerance towards disruption in lessons.’

I can imagine the unionist commenters frothing already at those comments.

The school says that, as a result of imposing tough rules early on, the pupils, many from difficult backgrounds, soon learn to behave and are happier for it.

The same applies in general life.

The sooner we stop listening to teacher unions, they are part of the problem, not part of the solution the sooner we can start getting better results from the education sector.


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  • Michael Stevenson

    “Raising Their Sights” is a contradictory title for this post. Nations that have implemented charter schools (England, Sweden, U.S) have fallen down the OECD/PISA ladder since implementing the controversial policy. This slide continues. Countries that reject the marketisation and privatisation of public education outperform those that do by a considerable margin. Perhaps this is because it is more important for schools to concentrate on teaching and learning instead of marketing and advertising.

    So I would argue the Government is ‘lowering their sights’ by promoting charter schools legislation.

    • Pissedoffyouth

      no, the reason these countries fail is the non-stop immigration of retarded bludgers who cant be told no without being offended. i bet if you got japan and added 20% arabs and samoans their schools would start failing

    • thor42

      You’re great at talking in generalisations, Michael.
      Care to address specific examples like the one mentioned at the top of the page?
      Why does that school work?
      Why could it NOT work here?
      There – two easy questions for you.

      • Dion

        As a charter school it’d undermine the power of his union – so of course it “wouldn’t work here”.

        • Gazzaw

          I answered that question on my post to ‘A big question for the Teacher Unions’ thread Dion. It will work here because there are ample talented non-unionised teachers just waiting for the opportunity to work in charter schools & restore the public’s high perception of the teaching profession.

    • Patrickm

      Please provide actual facts & figures for the above statements. Anything else will be seen as horseshit.

      • Michael Stevenson

        This article contains a useful diagram to compare New Zealand’s OECD/PISA performance against that of nations who endorse charter schools: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2010/dec/07/world-education-rankings-maths-science-reading

        Clearly, NZ, Canada, Finland and South Korea outperform Sweden, U.K and the U.S.

        • Still no answer as to what you are going to do about the tail…you seem fine with that level of failure

        • Patrickm


          Michael, from the data I see:
          NZ 2003
          Reading 3rd Place
          Maths 9th Place
          Science 4th Place (2006 year)

          NZ 2009
          Reading 7th Place
          Maths 13th Place
          Science 7th Place.

          Admittedly this is taken from Wikipedia so not verified. But if the data is correct the status quo is not working, either we are slipping or other countries have upped their game – if they have do you have any insights as to how this has happened?

          China did not make the top 30 in 2003 for reading – what are they doing now that they did not back in 2003?

    • For readers who don’t know Michael Stevenson is a union flack and executive member.

      • Michael Stevenson

        I can confirm I am not a union flack or executive member.

        • Hagues

          Just an Advisory Officer at the PPTA eh?

    • cows4me

      Gee Michael I bet you excel at pushing shit up hill with a sharp sticks.

  • Pissedoffyouth

    enforce rules and have expectations? what monsters!

  • thor42

    I wonder if Michael Stevenson would care to comment on California (in the 90s) adopting our much-vaunted “whole language” method of teaching reading.
    Their scores fell to the worst in the country.
    They have now dropped “whole langauge” and gone back to phonics.
    The legendary Doris Ferry on the Kapiti Coast also used phonics to teach children who had struggled with the “whole language” method. She was in **massive** demand – gee, I wonder why? A wild guess – because the method **worked**.

  • conwaycaptain

    Dame Marie clay refused to admit there was a thing called Dyuslexia and it wasnt un til she had been dead for 2 years that the MoEd admitted that there was and started doing something about it.
    Neil Mackay who is an UK Dyslexia expert and not a pointy head talks to sell out audiences in NZ.

    • thor42

      Yep, and Clay’s “whole language” method of teaching reading is **complete CRAP.**
      At least California was honest enough to admit its mistake and then correct it. Fat chance of that happening here, I’d say.

  • Stuarts.burgers

    This is what we need as well, and look at the mix of kids 52% were below proficiency in maths when they started
    . http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/22/nyregion/pathways-in-technology-early-college-high-school-takes-a-new-approach-to-vocational-education.html?pagewanted=all

  • Allyson

    Go easy on ’em guys. The argument has been won many times over. Even Labor head office now supports govt education reforms. They just gotta tell the Union leeches they’re wrong without them turning off the money tap.

  • Mandatory Latin is incredibly helpful for children from lower social economic groups.

    My theory on Latin has been dropped along the way is that it points back to a more religious and classical world, which goes against the Marxist view where history has to be wiped out in order to create “new man”.

    • Mediaan

      Salve Lucia Maria!

      Over here, in NZ, we have to work to get the lower achievers even up to passable standards of English. Many can barely function in civil society. Worse, they have been derided and put down by nastier teachers or vicious fellow pupils, so they have stopped trying. They put their efforts into disguising their lack of literacy.

      That’s when we get the bravado and the flashy stunts, sometimes including crime.

      I forget the figure but something like 15% of them leave school without the skills to deal with a hire purchase agreement or a rental contract. Many can not read or can hardly read at all, and use a very limited form of spoken language.

      The problem is not the kids. You can teach a pigeon to read, to a limited extent.

      It is the incompetent among the teachers and the neglectful (or sometimes over-anxious) among the parents.

      Latin will have to wait.

      • thor42

        Agreed, Mediaan.
        There are a number of articles “out there” which show the despair of staff at universities having to deal with students who can barely put a coherent sentence together.

        The deliberate sabotage and destruction of our education system (and indeed, whole culture) by the left is working very well – unfortunately.

        • Pissedoffyouth

          Why should these people be going to uni in the first place? Back in the day you sent the kids who were physical learners to be mechanical apprenticeship’s, electrical apprenticeships or farmers (all who earn much more then most uni graduates). They need to bring these back, as the entire drive for everyone to go to uni has wrecked havoc in its path.

          • Patrickm

            Unfortunately self interested organisations such as tertiary institutes are interested in their bottom line i.e sign up a bunch of kids, get them to pay their fees & who gives a hoot whether they are capable of passing the courses & whether or not they actually do pass.
            The upshot is you now have thousands of kids that have had their confidence shot to pieces, they have tens of thousands in student loan obligations, no tertiary education & no inclination to lower their sights & get a job – any job. So they sign on the “rock ‘n roll” & live off the poor old taxpayer, and the educated elite who ponce about our universities pat each other on the back & reward themselves with big fat salaries. The reality is it is simply wealth redistribution, unfortunately the ones paying for it (kids) never had it in the first place.

      • Salve Mediaan!

        That’s the thing, though. Lower achievers do better in English if they learn Latin as well. Fifty percent of English is derived from Latin. Knowing Latin words helps with the understanding of English vocabulary. Latin also opens up ancient civilisations to those who may not have though anything existed outside of their own environment and parental lineage. And it’s very easy to teach to young children – their minds are at their prime for memory work – and that was my experience when I was homeschooling with my children.

        • Mediaan

          Still not sure. I dont think Aussie schools face what some NZ schools do – such as a child entering from an environment with no written materials and little adult interaction.

          I agree with you that a mid-range student can get a lot out of Latin or Greek. And I see the point you are mking about widening the social understanding.

          There’s one thing, though, done cleverly it would possibly raise their self-esteem.

          And that is a big factor in their lack of learning achievement, not at first but by the time it is identified.

          Imagine taking out the bottom three achievers in a class for half an hour twice a week and announcing loftily that they were being withdrawn for an enrichment course featuring Latin. (Or, for that matter, Mandarin or Indonesian or Astrophysics). They would come back feeling quite boosted.

  • thor42

    An interesting page that is critical of the PISA tests –

    • Patrickm

      & anything promoted as fact in the UK Guardian newspaper by the lefties has to be taken with a shovel full of salt. The Guardian could never be accused of being impartial journalism that is for sure.

  • Dave

    Discipline, expectations for our children, never work in NZ. Please get this man a directorship with our charter schools and then as director general of education