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Totally Unfair
Thursday 12th April, 2007 14:58 Comments: 5
You're an A grade student, a prefect, you spend your free time representing the school in sporting events. And because of a stupid policy decision, this unfortunate girl is being banned from the netball team and her own prom. A school governor has quit in protest but the school insists the tough line on extra study benefits pupils.

The row started last June when the school asked all year 11 parents to sign a form allowing their children to attend the sessions. Kayleigh Baker, 16, is a prefect at Hurworth School and already has two A grade GCSEs. Her parents did not sign, saying their daughter was already a high achiever who did not need the burden of extra classes, which sounds like a pretty good reason to me. Headteacher Dean Judson then wrote to them saying their daughter would be excluded from any "other voluntary activities" at the school. This includes the end-of-school dance at Hardwick Hall.

School chief executive Eamonn Farrar said the extra study sessions were made compulsory five years ago. He said: "If we were to give the children the choice of attending the extra study sessions, what do you think the response would be? They wouldn't attend".

I can see why the school would want to force children to attend the extra lessons, as it'd probably help them achieve better grades and make the school look better in the league tables and probably gain additional funding/avoid closure. But if they're not careful, all schools will start to force extra classes on the students and we'll end up with stressed out kids and no change in the league tables.

Are the extra lessons required because of a general lack of quality in teaching? I'm not criticising the teachers, although I suspect some of them are sub-standard, but class sizes have increased over the years, so I presume teachers are finding it harder to properly connect with their students. This might make it harder to spot that kid in the corner with the glossed eyes, as well as being harder to demand the attention and gain the respect of an unruly class (the more people in a room the more likely it is that someone will disrupt the lesson?).

Perhaps the "large sizes for longer" approach is a cost effective method of teaching, but sometimes you have to stop and evaluate the impact this will have on the wellbeing of the children. Education is important, but don't drive people out of it too soon by forcing them into a generic style of teaching that doesn't work for them, and don't force the intelligent ones to sit through unnecessary lessons when they could, and perhaps should, have a better work-life balance - they probably already study in their own time in the comfort of their own home, around their other responsibilities and activities.

This girl shouldn't be excluded from "voluntary activities" because she already has a good track record. It should be possible to make an exception to the "mandatory" lessons for children that display an outstanding academic ability and have little, or nothing, to gain from the additional lessons, as long as they continue to display that ability during the regular lessons.

I wonder if the school could reach a compromise, where she sits "additional lessons" with a private tutor at home. All she'd need then is someone that's willing to lie for her. I can imagine a few sympathetic people would be willing to do that. She shall go to the ball! Or at least I hope she does.
Avatar Yamahito - Thursday 12th April, 2007 15:36
[edit - apologies in advance; this seems to have changed into an open letter by halfway through]

Astounding. I'm surprised that this doesn't fall under discrimination law. The line:

//teachers have the final decision on who attends the classes.//

imply to me that there are some students, at least in theory, to which these extra classes are not mandatory.

Of course, playing the devil's advocate for a moment, two A grades in favoured subjects does not mean that the pupil is working up to their expectations in other (more important?) subjects. And if the need for extra classes *is* there in this case, a teacher or the school being penalised under the law is going to make teachers withdraw even more from trying to acheive the maximum benefit for each student on a case-by-case basis. They'll have more to risk.

I think the trump card is this:

//If we were to give the children the choice of attending the extra study sessions, what do you think the response would be? They wouldn't attend.//

But you didn't give the 'choice' to the children:

//Last June [when] the school asked all year 11 parents to sign a form allowing their children to attend the sessions.//

You gave it to the parents. And then you changed the deal when you didn't get the response you wanted AFTER the fact:

//Headteacher Dean Judson *then* wrote to them//(my emphasis)

That is not choice at all. It stinks, and is dishonest.

The fact that you wrote to the parents means that you acknowledge the government's position: the ultimate responsibility for a child's education lies not with the school, but with the parents. That's partly because (as is easy to forget sometimes in politics) the vast majority of schooling is not done in a school, but at home, and is not under the remit of geography, history or physics, but ethics, morals and personal philosophies that will guide them for the rest of their lives. It is parents who have to make decisions for their children when they are too young or immature to make them for theirselves, and parents who ultimately take responsibility for those choices, right or wrong.

At the very best you are visiting upon the children the sins of the father. That's not right. At the worst, you are punishing an individual because a third party disagrees with a viewpoint you are wrongfully impressing upon them. And that is reprehensible.

If no legal action materialises (or perhaps regardless), I would love to see the pupils of the school boycott the official prom in favour of an alternate one some adults could organise. Perhaps the ex-governor?
Avatar Yamahito - Thursday 12th April, 2007 15:49
My mother (a teacher for forty odd years)'s comment:

Thank goodness I am not in school any more!
Avatar Robert - Thursday 12th April, 2007 16:04
playing the devil's advocate for a moment, two A grades in favoured subjects does not mean that the pupil is working up to their expectations in other (more important?) subjects

True, I wouldn't be surprised if they're in "easier" subjects (I'll let people decide for themselves which ones I'm alluding to). But this is why I put that caveat in about the student continuing to display their ability during the regular lessons. If they continue to get top grades in regular lessons, they shouldn't be forced to attend additional lessons, although they could voluntarily attend them if they still wanted to.

If the school was able to make the additional lessons appealing, they wouldn't have to force the kids to attend. The kids could choose to be there because they want to be there. Forcing a student to sit in a lesson that they really don't want to attend is not going to achieve anything. If the kids chose to attend because they all wanted to be there, there wouldn't be any problem. It's a similar reaction to banning clips of bullying of teachers on YouTube, when what really needs to be tackled is the real issue of discipline and respect in the classroom.

I love your idea of an unofficial prom, which everyone would attend instead!
Avatar Fab - Thursday 12th April, 2007 17:54
That is pretty disgraceful. What if the girl had to care for a sick relative thus couldn't attend extra lessons but was otherwise doing well? Would the school penalise her for it? There has to be some flexibiity with any such policy and being so rigid does not really say good things about the school.
Avatar Yamahito - Friday 13th April, 2007 09:30
Some more on this from the daily mail's website:

//Mrs Baker wrote to the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) asking if the school was allowed to make the extra lessons compulsory.

They replied: "All study support (out of school hours) activities are entirely voluntary and there should be no compulsion on young people to attend."//

//Mr Baker said ... "We made a collective decision about her welfare and the school has punished her for it. They have made an example of her."//

I think this is the point.

One last positive note for SB:

//To make up for not going to the ball her parents have hired a cruise ship, the Teesside Princess, for Kayleigh and her friends to go on after the exams. //
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