At my school we have a marking policy not unfamiliar in many schools, ours is WWW and EBW or What Went Well and Even Better When. This is a system that works as it picks out the positives in students work but also gives pointers as to where improvements can be made. I think this is also an apt way of looking at school standards in Reading from the last year. Difficult to some in this politically divided day and age where everything is either all good or all bad but in reality, the truth lies somewhere in between.
So to start with the WWW. More parents are choosing Reading schools to educate their children than previously, bums on seats is one of the best indicators of progress for schools. Exclusions are falling, both the rate of them and the number of them. This is in no small part to the work across our schools of the Therapeutic Thinking approach which the majority of our schools have signed up to. The percentage of our schools rated good or outstanding by Ofsted has increased from 77-85%. Despite my many misgivings regarding Ofsted, this must be celebrated and huge congratulations to those schools who have recently endured the stress and addition to workload of a visit and come out the other side. When we get the validated results, we can say more at a future ACE meeting regarding overall A-level and GCSE scores but initial indications show us that these are also on the increase from last year.
But we know we also have some work to do to be even better. At key stage 2 the gap in results between our schools and the national average is falling but there is still a gap. Whether locally maintained, Academies or Free schools these are the young people of Reading and all deserve the best start, so we need to find a way of working with our non LA schools to drive improvement. There is a similar picture with our disadvantaged students which is one of the focuses of our education strategy, the gap is falling but there is still a gap which we must close. We also know that we need to improve our provision and offer with regards to SEN, another focus of our education strategy, and steps are in place to increase capacity in the first instance.
So it is a mixed picture across education in Reading but I would like to stress schools don’t operate in a vacuum. Schools operate in a society and context that other factors, especially Government driven factors have a massive impact. Some areas of Reading have an 11-year difference in life expectancy from one another, but we don’t bang on the doors of GP surgeries and blame them. But we do with schools. A decade of austerity has seen teachers’ pay cut massively with workload rising, funding per pupil in schools has fallen by 8% (nearly double this for SEN students), constant meddling of curriculum but also wider social factors have a massive impact-universal credit, low wages, poor and temporary housing, the closing and thinning out of youth services and early years help. All of these things have an impact on our young people’s lives and education, its just often teachers and schools that carry the can.