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Borough’s secondaries are lagging behind

Camden is failing secondary school pupils in almost every demographic there is, says Calvin Robinson, a Conservative activist and a department head in computing science

17 August, 2017 — By Calvin Robinson

Calvin Robinson

ONCE teachers’ pets, Camden’s schools now lag behind the rest of the class.

AS a department head in a local state school I see the passion teachers bring to their work, the commitment they show to their pupils, and the impact that great teaching can have on pupils’ lives.

Every time I walk into a classroom I take on a huge responsibility and always ask myself: “Am I doing the very best that I possibly can?”

If I didn’t, I’d be letting down the very people that we all care so much about: my pupils.

Camden Council needs to adopt the same approach to standards in its own schools.

It should always be self-critical and look to improve. But sadly the council has got into a rut of complacency.

There are two official measures of school performance.

The first, so-called “Progress 8”, measures pupil progress between the ages of 11 and 16. The second, “Attainment 8”, measures their levels at the end of those five years. Together they give a good overview of the quality of our secondary schools.

However, by those measures, for pupils resident in the borough, Camden has the fourth-worst schools in London by Progress 8, and the fifth-worst by Attainment 8.

Camden schools underperform the London and national averages among every ethnic group bar one: those whose first language is English and those whose isn’t; among both disadvantaged and non-disadvantaged pupils; and among pupils with special educational needs.

In short, Camden is failing pupils in almost every demographic there is.

Across London, pupils on free school meals are a quarter more likely to attend university than they were in 2010.

By contrast, in Camden, the proportion of pupils from poorer families going to university hasn’t improved at all.

So while the national record in reducing educational inequality has been excellent, in Camden, we’re lagging behind.

Don’t get me wrong… there is more to teaching than just turning out grades or even getting into university.

As a computer science teacher, I want my pupils to leave school with a life-long love of computers and coding so they want to keep learning, inside and outside the classroom.

But equally let’s also not pretend that grades don’t matter.

Camden has just one secondary school rated as “outstanding” (the highest rating) by Ofsted, while Westminster has six.

Having taught on the Westminster side of Boundary Road, at Quintin Kynaston, I can see how different things are.

Camden’s Labour administration – unlike Conservative-run Westminster – is virulently hostile to innovation and pluralism in our schools.

Rather than allow headteachers the freedom to make decisions that suit their school, their teachers, and their pupils by embracing academy status, Camden’s policy is to keep all schools controlled by politicians.

So long as they are, Camden needs to look at closing the attainment gap by making provisions for highly able students from all backgrounds and by ensuring Camden schools have rigorous testing in place throughout.

It’s Camden’s job as the local educational authority to make sure schools are focusing not only on the results of these assessments in terms of league table placement, but that they’re using the results to highlight students who may require additional attention due to special educational needs, language barriers, or requiring further stretch, and that these interventions are put in place in a timely manner.

A big reason why I’m standing to represent Swiss Cottage on Camden Council is to make sure that in the council chambers there’s a voice of teaching and for ever-higher school standards. I will applaud where things go right but won’t be afraid to address problems where things fall short.

All councillors have a duty never to rest on their laurels, and to keep fighting to improve the services that all of our residents use: whether it be school standards or bin collections.

The next generation deserve A+ schools, not a one-size-fits-all education system that doesn’t make the grade.

Calvin Robinson teaches in a north London borough and featured in the Department for Education’s ‘I Chose to Teach’ campaign.

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