The headteacher of the independent school that produced three lead actors in the BBC’s hit series The Night Manager has said it would be difficult for state schools to replicate such success, because they are “completely under the cosh” of regulators.
John Baugh, head of the Dragon school in Oxford, where boarders’ fees are as high as £28,000 a year, said he thought the school’s acting success stemmed from its encouragement of all children to have a go at performing or speaking publicly.
In contrast, he said, despite the best efforts of teachers, state schools were unavoidably obsessed with exams, results and Ofsted judgments, leaving little space for children to pursue more creative activities including drama and acting.
I wonder why both Baugh and the Guardian focused on regulators and exams. Surely the overwhelming difference is the spend per pupil.
Let’s call him Matt. Aged 16, he is tall, taciturn and highly talented. He goes to a state school and is about to choose his A-levels. For all kinds of reasons, he believes he should progress, via Oxbridge or the Ivy League, to become an aerospace engineer.
So should he do further maths? If maths is the new rock’n’roll in education, then further maths is a VIP enclosure that fewer than 15,000 young people a year get into.
Last week, I had the chance to put this question to the deputy head of a top private school. “By all means do further maths, but only if you are guaranteed to get an A,” came the answer, as if it were a no-brainer. It was advice born out of years of practical knowledge.
Other opinions are available of course – and that’s the problem. This year, a quarter of a million 16-year-olds will make their A-level choices relying on hearsay, myth and information that is outdated or uncheckable. Those choices will shape their options when it comes to university – and the courses they apply for will then shape their chances of getting in.
There is, in short, massive asymmetry of information in the post-16 education system and the critical determinant is class. Kids at private school can rely on schools that have continual informal contact with elite universities. The result is that – for all the hard work being done by outreach teams in Russell Group universities, and by access teams in state schools – there’s an inbuilt advantage among those going to private schools based on informal knowledge.
A good point raised by Paul Mason.
Academies run by a superhead praised by the government for producing schools that “outperform the rest” of the state sector had secret advance notice of Ofsted inspection dates, the Observer can reveal.
Evidence uncovered by this newspaper suggests that three schools in Norfolk, all overseen by Dame Rachel de Souza, knew of impending visits by inspectors days, and sometimes weeks, before Ofsted arrived.
One school was even able to draft in teachers who had never previously taught there to perform in front of inspectors, according to whistleblowers. Another, keen to make good on the advantage, was said to be a “hive of activity” in the days directly leading up to the inspection.
By law, schools can only be given half a day’s notice of an inspection. Former education secretary Michael Gove has previously argued that schools should get no notice at all, to ensure that they do not evade proper scrutiny.
Can this really be true? That we can question the credibility of Ofsted? I’m confident there will be an investigation and that lessons will be learned.