The school that proves Michael Gove is right
Michael Gove at the King Solomon Academy
Success has many fathers, and on Twitter the fight to claim credit for the results at King Solomon Academy has already begun. KSA is an all-through school in Paddington, London, sponsored by ARK, and its results are breathtaking.
First, the context. Twelve per cent of the children at the school have special educational needs, 51.1 per cent are on free school meals and 65.2 per cent don’t speak English as their first language. So a challenging cohort, the sort of pupils that critics of Michael Gove’s education reforms claim simply cannot manage to get five GCSEs at grade C or above, including maths and English, let alone do well in the EBacc subjects. Expecting children from such deprived backgrounds to study the same curriculum and sit the same exams as children at Eton or Westminster is “elitist”. They’re bound to do badly and that, in turn, will damage their “self esteem”. Much better to teach working class children useful “life skills”, such as how to walk (an actual recommendation made by the deputy general secretary of the ATL). Forcing them to do traditional subjects like History and Geography is “totalitarian”.
Okay, so how did they do, these lumpen proles written off as too thick to tackle academically rigorous GCSEs by the teaching unions? Well, to begin with 93 per cent got five A*-C, including maths and English. Not only that, but 95 per cent got A*-B in English Literature and a whopping 75 per cent of the entire GCSE cohort achieved the EBacc benchmark. To give you an idea of what an achievement this is, the percentage of pupils achieving the EBacc benchmark at Rugby last year was 64 per cent.
So how did KSA manage to get such extraordinary results? Well, obviously, the children deserve a lot of the credit, as do their teachers. But would they have done as well if KSA was a local authority school? I visited KSA in January of 2010 when the pupils who’ve just sat their GCSEs were in Year 7. The school had opened the previous September and one of the remarkable things about it was that the headteacher, Max Haimendorf, was only 28. He was a graduate of the Teach First programme and was taking full advantage of the freedoms KSA enjoyed in virtue of its academy status, particularly the freedom to depart from the national curriculum.
Some people will point out that KSA was set up under the previous government and therefore Labour deserves the credit, not the Coalition. It’s certainly true that Labour politicians who championed the academies policy, like Tony Blair and Andrew Adonis, deserve some of the credit for the success of KSA and other, similar schools, such as Mossbourne. But Labour’s education spokesmen in this Parliament have been very half-hearted in their support for academies, primarily because they don’t want to upset the teaching unions and the Left of the party, who’ve always been opposed to them. . . .
. . . the essential point is that KSA has been doing exactly what Michael Gove would like all schools to be doing, namely, teaching every child a knowledge-based, subject-specific curriculum and expecting each of them to achieve the same standard as a child at a top independent school, regardless of background. This was the original vision behind comprehensives, which Harold Wilson described as “grammar schools for all”, and it’s a vision that Gove has kept faith with while Labour and the teaching unions have moved further and further away.
The success of the pupils at KSA proves that teaching all children the best that’s been thought and said isn’t elitist or discriminatory, it doesn’t penalise children from deprived backgrounds or ethnic minorities and it won’t damage the “self esteem” of working-class children. It proves something Gove has always known, but the Left appears to have forgotten – that all children are capable of mastering advanced algebra and understanding Shakespeare, not just middle-class children.
[Read the whole article on the website of The Telegraph.]