Thomas Clarkson Academy – Less teaching – better results?

My boy is currently in year 5, he has another year of junior school before he goes to secondary school. Thanks to the customer based, quality driven world of education presented to us these days, we have already started to look at his options for Secondary school.

The local option is The Thomas Clarkson Academy, part of the Brooke Weston Trust. It’s recently had its buildings overhauled and looks splendid when you are driving past. However, its GCSE results have been terrible, well below the national average, and its Ofsted reports equally as bad, rating the school as ‘Inadequate’.

Now every school has its challenges. Like all schools in this region a large percentage of pupils will have English as their second language. (I am not making a political point there, just a statement of fact. However, most of those kids are very keen to learn English and do so very quickly. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Polish speaking kid talk to you in a Norfolk accent.) Wisbech has also some of the most deprived wards in the country and, as we all know, poverty and low educational achievement go hand in hand. (Once, I was walking home mid-afternoon and remember hearing a mother telling her little boy that she had been at a friends for a coffee and ‘couldn’t be bothered to wait for him to finish school for the day, so she had told the office he had a dentist appointment’ and pulled him out early.)

So, why am I ranting about The Thomas Clarkson Academy? (Part of the Brooke Weston Trust) And yes I am going to keep repeating that because, as an Academy they can pretty much do as they want.

They have announced on Wednesday this week, two days before the start of half term, that as of the 31st October the last session of the day 2:40pm – 3:40pm will be optional. Pupils (at least they don’t call them customers or ‘service users’) are ‘strongly encouraged’ to take part in after school homework clubs or extra curricular activities. (More on that in a little while)

However, we are a small town and many children come by bus from the surrounding villages. These buses have now been re-arranged for 2:50pm, ruling out those kids joining these clubs unless parents can come and collect them later. Bad luck parents. Let’s hope your minimum wage employer is understanding, and that if you have to collect younger children from primary schools closer to home you can magically get into town in time to collect them.Struggling, hard working parents who now have a week and a half to rearrange their working hours to fit this new scheme.

The only year where it will be compulsory to stay until 3:40pm will be year 11, the final GCSE year. A bus just for them will be arranged, that will go through all the villages, presumably making that journey longer for them, so they get home later.

I find it utterly staggering that a 4 year old Reception class pupil has a longer school day now than a Year 10 pupil. And it is all very well to say that pupils are encouraged to join homework clubs. But will those clubs be subject specific? If a child is struggling with his English work will an English teacher be on hand to help, or will it be pot luck what the supervising teacher will specialise in? Will it even be a qualified teacher? Or a member of support staff? Because, and let’s not forget this, The Thomas Clarkson Academy (Part of the Brooke Weston Trust) is under no obligation to only employ qualified teachers.

They published on their website a list of the ‘After’ school activities. These include various activities that do sound very good; Duke of Edinburgh scheme, a games playing group, special P.E courses to encourage girls to get more active. But most disturbing, in that list is GCSE Music and GCSE Art.

Art and Music have apparently become an extra curricular activity. I can hardly express how incredibly angry this has made me. I don’t wholly blame the school on this. They are expensive courses to run and, thanks to our customer focused education experience, schools are only interested in getting the league table subjects grades up. It has been in the news this week that A-Level Archaeology and History of Art have been scrapped as subjects altogether.

We are driving our children into studying just English, Maths and the Sciences. Important subjects of course, but where is the depth? Where do we let our children’s talents and abilities express themselves and grow? Wealthy middle class parents will often pay for music tutoring for their kids, to learn an instrument, but that doesn’t teach you the history of music, the art of music, how music has grown and developed across the human race. Neither does it allow for poorer families, who can’t afford private tutelage, to give their child a chance to discover an ability and talent.

We’re not raising children to adulthood any more. We are raising wage slaves. Qualified only to work in ‘the modern workplace’.Increasingly it seems only the most fortunate pupils will have a chance to study the broader arts, and that mostly at Private schools. A two tier system, the Morloks and the Eloi, one to lead and one to serve!

Okay, take a deep breath. Calm down.

The Thomas Clarkson Academy (part of the Brooke Weston Trust) are not going to be responsible for the dystopian future of the human race. But this feels like a thin edge of a wedge and one that makes no real sense, apart from cost cutting measures. Less teachers needed, less overtime to pay, less facilities needed.

I’m not a professional educator. I know many teachers and support staff personally and I know they work incredibly hard. (And universally get extremely annoyed when you make jokes about how much holiday they get. Doesn’t stop me doing it though.) Perhaps this kind of scheme is the way to proceed? A way to relieve some of the pressures we are putting on our children to get better results. But it doesn’t feel like that. It will let unmotivated children with unmotivated parents get out of school earlier. It will make motivated children whose parents aren’t in a position to pick them up after school miss out on an hour of schooling.

I studied GCSE Music, and I like the fact that I know what a Concerto Grosse is. I like that I can follow a classical score. Is it practical? No. Do I use that knowledge every day in my life and work? No. But I know it and when you are at school how do you ever know what you’ll need in the future?

Our two local papers come out on Wednesdays and Fridays, so, by announcing the measure on a Wednesday this has happily avoided hitting this weeks local press. I am sure this is a complete coincidence and not a way of avoiding negative publicity. (Any irony you are hearing there is entirely, I am sure, in your own head.)

Now, I am not a professional journalist. I am a very amateur blogger. I wouldn’t want to unfairly besmirch any one person or group in my blogs. If I have made any factual errors in this piece I warmly welcome The Thomas Clarkson Academy (part of The Brooke Weston Trust) to let me know what they are and I will happily correct them. If they would like to give me the rationale for cutting an hour of school time from students at a school rated as ‘Inadequate’ by Ofsted, with results far below the national average I will very happily publish it to my page.

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