St Olave’s cruelty to pupils shows the ruthlessness of the league table system

St Olave’s grammar school in Orpington, Kent. ‘St Olave’s needs to rethink this shameful policy before it damages more of the young people in its care,’ writes Mark Crane [Image: Gareth Fuller/PA].

Can open, worms everywhere.

St Olave’s Grammar School has been exposed as expelling pupils for underperforming in mock examinations – in order to maintain its position at the top of school league tables.

The practice has been condemned as it harms the future of the pupils it discriminates against – and members of the public have come forward to express their disgust in the letters page of The Guardian.

Here’s Lucy Binney, of Oxford:

Young people who have achieved well enough at 16 to be accepted by these highly selective sixth forms are having to change school halfway through their A-levels, and are likely to end up with qualifications far below their potential.

When a school prioritises its league table position, it suits its interests better for a pupil to get no A-levels once off their hands, than for that pupil to get mediocre A-levels while still on the school roll.

The pupils involved and their families don’t usually make a fuss, because they are humiliated and don’t want to identify the young person.

So the strategy is not only to dump the under-performing pupils, but actually to sabotage their chances.

That is evil. It is exactly the opposite of the way a school should behave.

Sixth-form teacher David Hampton makes another excellent point:

While those responsible for the policy put their own kudos ahead of students’ needs, the media’s tendency to highlight only the successes of these highly selective schools doesn’t help.

True. As a local newspaper reporter, This Writer had to produce many stories praising schools on the exam results gained by their pupils.

But the practice of dumping students isn’t confined to grammar schools, according to Jane Weake, of London:

This practice is also commonplace in many London comprehensives… These students are just being cynically abandoned to sink or swim. Often they sink! This is not in their best interests.

Philip Kerridge of Bodmin asserts:

While schools are under enormous pressure to deliver results they will cheat. Who says so? Not only me but also Durham University’s Professor Rob Coe in evidence to a House of Commons committee investigating primary school assessment.

Environmental toxicologist Mark Crane, himself an Old Olavian, expressed his surprise at the school’s current policy:

If such a punitive system had been in operation when I was at the school then I, and most of my schoolmates, would have been asked to leave, and it is unlikely that I would have gone on to complete a PhD, teach at the University of London, publish over 100 scientific papers, and build a successful scientific consultancy.

So the school is harming not only pupils’ life chances but also the UK’s ability to compete, not only in academia but in commerce and world markets (I would say).

Retired headteacher Chris Dunne warns that the Conservative government’s drive to turn all schools into privately-owned academies would make parents’ attempts to gain redress almost impossible:

The parents who are now seeking legal redress against St Olave’s should count themselves lucky it is a maintained school, and as such governed by laws that make what amounts to an exclusion on these grounds illegal. The government’s drive to turn all schools into academies will effectively close off such an option for all but the most determined, and wealthy, parents.

So the Tories are complicit in this con.

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One Comment

  1. Barry Davies September 1, 2017 at 6:11 pm - Reply

    The whole idea of league tables, whether for schools hospitals or any other government body is ridiculous in the first place, after all no one livening in cornwall for example could send their children to a top school in Manchester.

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