Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Michael Gove and the concept of the 'failing school'

Hitherto to 'failing school' could be recognised as the one where less than 30% of pupils gain five GCSEs at A* to C. Now in a great leap forward it's going to be 35%. Those at 34.99% face regime change.

Good luck with that - but I have always wondered where this notion of the 'failing school' comes from and why so much importance is attached to it? The state of 'failing' is by definition transitory and applies only to a few schools. The way that people keep repeating this phrase is just another example of a public discourse that contains very little I recognise.

Here's a new category for those who want to acquaint themselves with reality. This is the failed school. Failed so long ago that when it was anything other is but a folk memory. Here 'management' is essentially an exercise in pretending that this hasn't happened. There's not that many of them, in my experience, but they're scary places for a number of reasons but chief amongst these is that there is very little space to breathe for those who decline to accept that tractor production is up.

With schools it breaks down like this:

1) Excellent

2) Very/pretty good

3) Ok

4) Institutionalised surrender

Between 3 and 4, for a short period in time, is the 'failing school'. Focus on them if you want but I've yet to hear or read anything in the general conversation about education that even acknowledges the existence of 4, never mind have any practical suggestions as to what to do about them.

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