I’ve taught in several difference school contexts. All state schools. All comprehensive. However the difference between the students is stark.
I remember in one school we had a really close knit faculty and a student in year 9 wrote a piece of work that was outstanding. We all read it and discussed what level we thought it was. We were over the moon to agree it was a level 6. This was really special in that context.
In another school it was my job to select high attaining students to teach them an AS in year 10/11. One year we somehow rushed through everything so we did A2 as well. Only two students, that had achieved the AS, didn’t want to do the A2.
I also saw one piece of work at key stage 3 that I believed was levelled ‘EP’ or exceptional performance.
Finally, in another school, classes were set and the majority of the top set were so able that I had to teach them A level level work. They wrote detailed, well referenced essays that would probably make a 1st year undergraduate degree pass.
The difference was stark.
So what is the reason for the difference? The most obvious difference was context. The first example was a school in what has been previously the largest council estate in Europe. The second was a coastal school in one of the less deprived coastal towns. The final example was a school that I would describe as working middle class, with some relatively wealthy families.
There are a couple of reasons why this has been brought to my mind. I’m writing a teacher resource and have asked people to review it. The results are fascinating. I asked the reviewers on a scale from ‘too easy’ to ‘too difficult’ what they thought about the resource. I know that if I’d used it in the first school the students would have really struggled to read and/or process the resource. The level of literacy of the resource would be far too high. I could probably have used it in school 2 & 3 but only with students with the literacy levels to deal with the text. It certainly wouldn’t work with all the students.
A couple of reviewers chose the ‘too easy’ option. I’ve never worked in a school where this would be the case.
This stark difference has really made me think about how schools are judged and ranked based on results and, as ever, ask some questions….
- Will the new measures allow the first school a fairer ranking?
- Are age related qualifications the best thing for children?
- Should we teach at a level that relates to the students’ age or ability?
- The new progress measures make it risky to do A level below key stage 5, are we restricting our students?
- Should publishers create resources that cover all these literacy levels? Is it worth their while to publish separate editions?
- Why was there such a big difference between the literacy of the majority of students in these schools?
- Is it all about expectations? ( Our faculty in the first school achieved exceptional results yet the school’s overall results hovered about 30-40% A*-G.)
- Is recruitment an issue? The first school had huge recruitment issues and the second school struggled.
- Do some teachers struggle in some schools because they haven’t ‘adapted’ to the context?
- Is it realistic to think that schools with very different contexts can effectively support each other?
My resolution is to publish the resource as it is, but it has got me thinking about the ‘one size fits all’ approach to schools.