Friday, 28 September 2012

Selection by ability to pay?

Shortly after the Brent Education Debate I was passing the Ark Academy and overheard a parent, application form in hand, saying to his partner, "It is the nearest we can get to sending him to a grammar school." That speaks volumes about how the academies are really seen, despite assurances that they will cater for the whole community.

There are now more secondary school students at the Ark but none have been there long enough to produce any exam results on which parents could base their secondary choice. Apart from the impression of modern resources and facilities, what else do parents base their choices on?

Anecdotally, the lure of 'discipline' seems to figure high with parents. The academy reinforces that with strict rules and long hours. The television screen in the school's reception area portrays all the various hair styles that are not allowed, which when I saw it seemed mainly aimed at Afro-Caribbean children.

Needless to say the children I have spoken to don't always share their parents belief in the 'tough love' approach. I have a worry, with academies in general and free schools, that some sponsors have an underlying mission to discipline and 'civilise' working class and ethnic minority students.

Actual examination results in Ark schools are a mixed bag. In 4 of the 5 Ark schools with a GCSE intake the percentage of pupils gaining 5 A*-C grades this year has fallen since 2011.  Burlington Danes is down from 75% to 64%, Walworth from 69%to 62% and St Alban's from 68% to 50%. Only Charter has increased from 39% to 49%. Of course this is in the context of the marking controversy where I welcome Brent Council's decision to join in the legal challenge.

I have been approached by parents with children in the primary department of Wembley Ark Academy with concerns about the expenses involved in sending their children to Ark. One parent said, "I know the actual schooling is free but we are expected to spend a lot on outings and this can mount up when you have several children at the school."  Many community primary schools subsidise outings as they recognise  that they contribute to a well-rounded education and should be open to all children.

The  Wembley and Willesden Observer this week (Parents find uniforms a cost too far, page 5) quotes Judy Watson whose 11 year old twins joined Ark at the beginning of this year on the high cost of school uniform:
I had to buy a blazer for each of them, which was about £60, and a sweatshirt, they had to have bags with the school logo on and a tracksuit for PE s well. They are running the school like a private school and not every parent can afford it.
She contrasted this with the reasonably priced uniform at primary school and the ability to buy low-priced essential from supermarkets.  I have covered the case for generic uniforms before on this blog LINK

The grammar school system was a selective system based on the 11+ examination. My mother always bitterly regretted that despite passing the 11+ she was not allowed to go on to grammar school because her family couldn't afford the uniform. Selection by 'ability' was also affected by 'ability to pay'.

In a time of austerity don't schools have a  duty to make sure that 'ability to pay' is not a factor in school choice?


1 comment:

  1. Dear Martin,
    I am sure that you will give space to the letter from the Principal also carried in the Wembley Observer in which it is made clear that many of the garments listed by the paper are optional and that the uniform is in fact similarly priced to that in other Wembley and Brent community schools. Also like other schools the academy provides assistance to parents where this is needed.

    Ark provides a wide range of opportunities for its pupils in and outside school at secondary and primary level at as low a cost as is possible. As at other schools subsidies are applied to extend opportunities and Ark also makes arrangements to help families whose children could not otherwise participate.

    For the record, Ark does not select pupils - indeed the provisions of its admissions policy are that 50% of secondary places are reserved for children living closest to the Fawood Children's Centre in order that access to the school is not restricted to Wembley only. Its FSM percentage at 30 - 32% is similar to other schools in the area.

    Parents and others passing the school may use all sorts of shorthand to describe it. We hope that the "grammar" shorthand implies no more than that the school has very high aspirations for all its pupils and makes every effort possible and provides the help and support needed to ensure that every student fulfills their potential. We hope that is what attracts hundreds of parents to our open days and why the school has been oversubscribed thus far.

    Kind regards,

    L Smith
    Governor

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