After years of decline, why Knowsley’s schools are fighting back

A few days after Sir Michael Wilshaw singled them out for criticism, the Telegraph is reporting from the Merseyside where the pupils and headteachers at Knowsley’s failing schools insist they have turned a corner. 

…Listening to such dire descriptions one might expect Knowsley’s schools to be crumbling Victorian classrooms under mob rule. In fact they are housed in gleaming buildings with facilities that easily match those elsewhere in the country. They stand as monuments to the failure of top-down policy-making and a grandiose educational scheme that has served merely to exacerbate deep-rooted social problems in an area where 33.7 per cent of children already come from income-deprived households. 

In 2009, the Labour government pledged £157m under its Building Schools for the Future programme to replace 10 ageing secondary schools in Knowsley with seven new “centres for learning”. In the cavernous ultra-modern buildings, teachers were renamed “progress leaders” and traditional classrooms became open-plan “home base areas” where pupils could supposedly wander about downloading lessons from whiteboards. 

The idea, so the press releases stated, was to bring “world class” education to Knowsley. The reality, according to a teacher at one of the newly-created schools, was “mayhem”. 

Teachers were left spending whole lessons trying to manage the chaos. Government statistics for 2012-13 found one in seven Knowsley pupils had been suspended from school. Bullying thrived while some pupils failed to turn up at all. Brighter students recall simply wandering home at the end of the day having once more been set no homework. The scheme pushed already struggling schools in Knowsley into sharper decline at a time when educational inequality is growing…

Yet despite the Ofsted attack, Knowsley’s head teachers appear to be in a bullish mood. Abandoning the Labour scheme and returning to traditional teaching methods has, they insist, engendered huge changes in the ways the schools operate. Four of the centres for learning have now opted to become academies while one – Christ the King Centre for Learning in Huyton – closed in 2013 because parents were refusing to enrol their children. 

Vicky Gowan, acting head teacher of Lord Derby Academy (the school’s actual head is currently on secondment to another failing primary school in the area) is among those who champion positive changes. Since re-opening as an academy in February 2014, the school has yet to be visited by Ofsted, but in the latest school rankings organised by the city’s newspaper, the Liverpool Echo, it receives just one star out of five.

Gowan, however, is convinced a corner has been turned. Attendance rates are now above the national average, having risen from 90 per cent to 95 per cent in two years, and teachers now enforce strict discipline, which is in evidence all over the school. Pupils are checked on arrival to see if they have their pencil cases, dictionaries and calculators, and have to stand up in class every time they ask a question…

More at: After years of decline, why Knowsley’s schools are fighting back


More insights in the full article on a definite sense of optimism amongst those involved in the system in Knowsley.

Your thoughts on the issues discussed and the apparent progress being made?

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  1. There are just six secondary schools in Knowsley.   Four of them (two Inadequate and two Requires Improvement) are being monitored by Ofsted.  Inspectors said they were all taking ‘effective action’ to improve.  A fifth, (RI), has yet to be monitored and a sixth (Lord Derby) has yet to be inspected (its predecessor school was Inadequate).
    The Regional Schools Inspector for the area sent Knowsley an excoriating letter re its secondary schools despite four out of six taking ‘effective action’.  At the same time he admitted that higher-ability children were moving out of Knowsley to join secondary schools in other authorities.
    Sir Michael’s kicking and the negative tone of his RSI will do nothing to stem this exodus.  Neither will it attract teachers to the area.  Good of the local heads to fight back.

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