Speaking at a Downing Street reception earlier this year, David Cameron was fulsome in his praise for, among others, the headteacher of Barrowford primary school in Lancashire. With Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, alongside, he described this headteacher as one of those teachers who is: “Delivering the best schools and skills for our young people, so that they can fulfil their potential and get on in life. (This) is a central part of our long-term economic plan.” He added: “With such dedicated and inspiring teachers in our schools I know we can ensure our children get the best chance to succeed. It was an honour to celebrate their commitment at this reception.”
In their recent inspection report, Ofsted inspectors reached a different conclusion. They rated the school as “inadequate”. This reflected the pupils’ comments to them that: “No one minds if we don’t do our best work.” In addition, they witnessed, in concentrated form, the long standing orthodoxy in our primary schools – so called ‘child-centred’ learning. Learning through pseudo ‘exploration’, ‘discussion’ and ‘discovery’ appears to have been the order of the day at Barrowford with the unsurprising consequence that children’s learning and progress was poor.
Inspectors seems have been equally unimpressed by the school’s approach to order and discipline; an approach that, if one were being kind, might be described as ‘experimental’. It is based on a ‘no blame’ culture devoid, it appears, of any meaningful boundaries. Incidents of bulling or harming other pupils are not punished but, instead, subjected to “restorative conferences” that are supposed to “heal the damaged relationship”. The school has made clear in its policy documentation that “a child is not to be defined as naughty”. Apparently, naughtiness does not exist. It has been re-defined as making “a wrong choice”. The strongest ‘ticking off’ that is permitted for a teacher seems to be to tell a misbehaving pupil that “you have emptied my resilience bucket.”
Not even Ofsted inspectors could be taken in by this ‘tosh’. For once they managed to spot a fake educational approach when they saw it in action. The school’s self-indulgent, ‘new age’ trendiness has been exposed for what it is – a sham. It is the children, of course, who will suffer. Rather than equipping them for the real world, Barrowford has been feeding them an educational junk diet that might fit well with some adult hippie fantasies but ill serves the children.
For heaping praise on the school’s headteacher, I would like to confine the Prime Minister to sit alongside her on the ‘naughty step’. But, in the context of Barrowford School, the best I can do to reprimand him to is to let him know that he has emptied my resilience bucket…and, I think, the resilience bucket of many parents.