Posted on 02/02/2015

Nothing less than the best

Today Mr Cameron will be outlining proposals for education. He is declaring ‘an all-out a war on mediocrity’, stating that ‘just enough is not good enough’.

Whilst the Prime Minister’s first steps are to make ‘good’ all schools requiring improvement, this cannot be the end objective of education policy. If, as he says, schools are ‘to provide the best start in life for every child, wherever they’re from – no excuses’, this must mean an outstanding school for every child – otherwise those in outstanding schools will have a better start than those in good ones. On starting school, Winston Churchill said, ‘It is not pleasant to feel oneself so completely outclassed and left behind at the very beginning of the race’.

But how is it to be achieved?

First, having the highest standards of behaviour, uniform and attendance must be taken as read. And second, an appropriate curriculum is fundamental. At FBS we provide our boys with an academic curriculum, and the latest school league tables published last week underline the need for an outstanding academic boys’ school open to all in this part of London. We believe our boys need to have a deep, wide knowledge of history and geography. They need to have a thorough understanding of maths, science, computing and how things work. They need to be linguists and be able to enjoy and appreciate the arts and music. We want them to be sporty and healthy. They have to be able to communicate effectively, speaking and writing, to be able to reason and debate and have the confidence to perform in public.

We think our curriculum is just what is needed. But it’s not enough. We have to get our pupils enthused. At the risk of over quoting Churchill, he said, ‘Where my reason, imagination or interest were not engaged, I would not or I could not learn’.

This leads to the third, vital ingredient. Teaching. Tristam Hunt, the shadow education secretary says the lack of high quality teaching is a reason for so many young people being taught in sub-standard schools. He blames government policy to allow unqualified teachers into the classroom and has said raising standards depends on making sure that schools have qualified teaching staff.

I totally agree with Mr Hunt that without outstanding teachers you will not get outstanding schools. However, being a qualified teacher doesn’t necessarily make you an outstanding one. At Fulham Boys School we have a clear view of what outstanding teaching looks like. It is the ability to bring a subject to life, to make boys think and question. It is creating independent learners who know what they need to do to improve and can help those around them do the same. It is getting boys to see the relevance of what they are doing and creating in them the desire to find out more. Our approach is to find people who can do all of this. Nearly all of our teachers, as it happens, are qualified. One isn’t. Why did we appoint her? Because she was so much better that all the other candidates. Potentially she is quite brilliant. I would rather have someone with potential than a qualified journeyman. Of course it is a risk but when did playing safe ever win the day? If we keep doing what we have always done, we will keep getting what we have always got.

At FBS we are waging an ‘all-out war’ on anything less than the best. To get there we have to have high standards, a curriculum with depth and rigour, brought alive by the highest standard of teaching. But teaching not necessarily off the shelf at training colleges, but from high quality people who can teach the FBS way.

I invite Mr Hunt to FBS to observe our teachers and tell me who is ‘unqualified’. And I invite Mr Cameron to FBS to see the type of school that I believe everyone should be entitled to, if they’re to get ‘the best start in life’.

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