4:12pm Thursday 21st August 2008
By Charlotte Gray
Smiles were plastered across students' faces today as they performed the ritualistic ceremony of opening their GCSE results.
But I think it was teachers who were the ones breathing a sigh of relief.
For four schools across Haringey it was D-Day. The pressure was on to have more than 30 per cent of pupils getting five or more GCSES at A-C grade.
At Woodside High, head Joan McVittie was hiding the pressure well - by voicing the school's successes, as well as its recent struggles, publicly.
She appeared in The Guardian on Monday, featured on Radio 4 this morning, and was faced with three newspapers turning up on her doorstep at 10am today. And all because of a few misleading statistics.
In June Mr Education Balls said all schools, no matter what their make-up, should be forced to reach a minimum standard. Woodside High failed this last year, and quite drastically.
But when you speak to the very eloquent head, the reason for this is quite simple: the targets are idiotic. We all know Government targets are sometimes about as useful as a tub of butter in hot sunshine, but these latest ones are just prejudicial to poorer areas or areas with a large number of ethnic minorities.
More than 80 per cent of Woodside pupils do not have English as their first language, do not speak English at home, yet are expected to take all of their GCSE exams in our language. And it's not as if the school is only dealing with one other language - it's more like 66, and a lot of the children come in with only a small grasp of the English language.
Could you imagine rehashing those dark exam days entirely in French or German for example? I guarantee I would not get anywhere near 5 Cs. Yet this is what Ed Balls is asking. And not politely either; it was more like an ultimatum.
So what's the solution? Mrs McVittie's reasoning was actually reasonable. Give me 5 years, she said, and we will have far surpassed the target. From her point of view these children need more than 3 years of teaching to be able to sit their exams in a foreign language competently.
It was a shame the Balls shadow hung over the school this year, because all of the children I spoke to did really well and spoke highly of the transformation the school has undergone in the past two years.
Hopefully the dark days are nearly over and next year the focus can be more on the children than the Government.
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