The Magic of High Expectations – how some inner-city schools are outperforming top private schools…

There was a rather surprising set of statistics in the Parent Power guide for primary schools that was published by the Sunday Times yesterday. The top state primary school scored 346 out of 360 (96%) in the SATS result for Reading, Writing and Maths. This score by Mayflower School in the East End of London matches exactly that of the very top prep school – Guildford High Junior School in the opulence of Surrey, where the fees are as high as over £12,000 a year – not to speak about the cost of sports equipment and school uniform.

What made this more astonishing is that we are not talking about the marks scored by a small selection of the top performing children in the school. This is the aggregate score for all the 50 students who sat the test at the school. Something else that was not written about in the Sunday Times, but which I observed from the separate tables they published – one for the state and the other for private schools – is that  school number ten in the state sector scored higher, an aggregate of 341, whilst school number ten in the private sector scored 336. This is a tremendous achievement, given that 98% of pupils at Mayflower School have English as their second language, almost half qualify for Pupil Premium and the school is in Tower Hamlet Borough, where 57% of pupils live in poverty. 

This achievement by many state school pupils, which is made possible by their parents and teachers, is rather refreshing and excellent news. It is good to hear something very inspiring, given the health, economic and political turmoil we’ve had since early spring.  Given the fact that the vast majority of children in that school are from the ethnic group which is ranked at the bottom of academic achievement in England,  it shows that where there is the will, there is hope. One hopes this attainment serves as inspiration for these young people to carry on achieving beyond primary school, and also for other families, who see themselves as disadvantaged, to see what is possible.

There are three parties involved in this terrific achievement by a number of state primary schools, and the children who achieve this brilliant result come number three out of three. The first is “the parents”, closely followed by the teachers who made it happen. If you’d bear with me, I’ll explain my reason for saying that the parents and teachers matter more than the pupils in making this happen. I’ve not met many parents who do not want the best for their children, if you ask them, or even if you observe their emotional expression when they are interacting with their offspring. For teachers, the vast majority of those I know have the interest of their students at heart, and they go the extra mile to empower the young people they teach. However, there is something rare and special about parents and teachers in these non-academically selective state primary schools, where pupils are achieving the almost-impossible. Most of these parents see education as the way out of poverty for their children and they will do whatever it takes to support them and their teachers. They do not just talk about it, they do it. As for the teachers, what made this near-magic happen was the unrelenting commitment of the teachers at those schools. For those teachers, it’s not just a job. 

I’ve seen many well-meaning teachers, with an amazing level of commitment, failing, as they are not supported by the parents in particular. I’ve also seen many bright young people drifting about and achieving mediocre academic performance. When you have all   three ingredients – parents, teachers (at a school lead by a truly committed head teacher, with a team of dedicated staff) and, finally, students, so much can be achieved. 

I found the comment by the head of Mayflower School – Dee Bleach – rather inspiring. Quoting from the Sunday Times, she said “Our job is to make learning irresistible and I think we do a pretty good job of doing that.” When interviewed, head teachers from three award winning East London schools said that their success was down to focus, practice, high expectations and dedicated teachers. I’m in complete agreement with these educators and I’d summarise what they said as follows, what is required for pupils to achieve extraordinary results is “teachers with high expectations”. It must be noted that successful people with high expectations of others usually place a high demand on themselves and are extremely committed. They don’t just say it, they put their money where their mouth is.  

For the most committed teachers, it’s not just a job, it’s a mission. Mayflower School, like  all the state primary schools, is not academically selective, unlike most prep schools.  This demonstrates that amazing things can be achieved with children of average ability, provided they get the support of their parents and teachers. 

There is no doubt that things get a little trickier when it comes to secondary school, as we are dealing with teenagers, who are, in effect, young adults with all the challenges that brings. However, although the chances of success are a little lower, with commitment and the right level of support, a significant level of academic success can be achieved by teenagers at GCSE and A-level. I’ll be speaking more about this next week.

While celebrating the success of these state primary schools, which is an excellent step forward, we have to bear in mind that secondary school is where the big issue is. Although this achievement, with the very top state primary schools outperforming the top private schools, is a new and growing trend, statistics have shown for many years that certain ethnic minority children come near the top of academic achievement at the end of primary school, but, for some reason, they end up near the bottom by the time they finish secondary school. 
Next week, the Sunday Times releases the secondary school version of Parent Power, and my blog post next week is going to discuss this.

See the link below for my last blogpost – mainly a discussion on if there is likely to be an exam in the summer or not.