'Don't talk to me about league tables - what we do for each pupil is what counts'
Headmaster at Framlingham College Paul Taylor criticises "one dimensional" league tables used to judge schools in this extract from his final speech day address.
Everyone here will be familiar with my heartfelt belief that a successful education is not only to be measured in examination grades in the same way that no person should ever be defined by those grades.
Yes - we are so proud this year to have had one of our pupils in the top 0.12% of GCSE candidates nationally; and of our over 20 1st class degrees in the last 2 years (and these are just the ones we have heard about); and we are equally proud of that pupil who secured 7 decent passes having been told by his last school that he would never pass any GCSEs.
Yes - we do both here, increasingly well actually. But what we hope to work for - with parents - is to create balanced, happy and rounded human beings; yes we want them to have achieved academically and in other areas at the very top of their potential, but we also want them to have a sense of self; an innate sense of right and wrong and the moral courage to do something about the difference.
So if I have one parting wish as I take my leave from the profession it is to, please, change the educational conversation and its focus on academic league tables as a measure of a school (and they, by the way, are mostly about selective intake).
You know my position on this and I am aggressively opposed to such one-dimensional tables (though we are wholly transparent about our results, as we should be).
There is a local school, for example, that demands at least six GCSEs at grade 6 and 2 at 5 for their own pupils to enter their own Sixth Form - even if they have been in their care since 11.
What is that about? Where is the joint responsibility for those results? Which is why I have always said that if you take a child at 13 you see them through to 18 unless you come to a mutual agreement that there is a better route for them (not for the school) elsewhere.
I hear lots of parents who ask about our academic results but this is the key and the formula remains: if they work hard and the teaching is good - which it is here (very) - they will do well. I have worked in far more academically selective schools and can honestly say that what goes on in the classroom here comfortably stands comparison with any of them.
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So - please don't talk to me about league tables and overall results - all that matters is how we are doing for each individual child against their own ability level.
Yes - ask me and please even challenge me about that, and about the quality of our teaching and learning and the culture and environment we have here, but please don't tell me that a child who struggles and works hard to get that D grade, or who just loves his or her sport but 'only' makes the D team, or who doesn't get that part in the play: please don't tell me that that pupil is any less valuable a member of this community than our A* scholars or 1st team captains.
Don't get me wrong: the very best possible examination results remain critically important, but they are not sufficient. They also need those personal qualities - resilience; self-belief; creativity; presentation; articulacy; manners; the ability to work with other people; measured risk-taking; flexibility; adaptability; honesty; integrity and - importantly - a ready smile: the fact that such qualities are less easy to measure than pure academic achievement does not mean they are less important educational objectives; not if we are to enable our leavers to enter the adult world excited - rather than daunted - by the challenges that lie ahead.
To do that we have to protect the breadth of education as it is the sport, the performing arts, CCF, DofE, chapel and chaplaincy, community service and the huge range of activities in schools such as ours that foster these qualities.
These are not just fripperies to pass the time: they are absolutely core to our educational philosophy. Please protect in particular our creative subjects against the current tide of educational directives that militate against them: this is where pupils can explore who they are and what they think: creativity is one of the things that make us human; what Victor Hugo said about music in my view applies to all the creative arts: that 'Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent'.
I will always cherish those moments when I see children who might be reticent in the classroom or awkward socially come alive on stage, in a concert or play, or through producing an outstanding painting, film or artefact. And then to see that child walking that little bit taller the next day. That is what it is all about and it is good schools like this that unlock such things.
As I leave the profession I know I do so when independent schools are facing challenging times. Without a political or media ally in sight (publicly at least!) they have become easy targets for cheap political point scoring.
I also have to say that I do not doubt the sincerity of some critics, and even admire their ideological motivation, and I even admit to feeling conflicted myself at times. But every time I do I remember how strongly i) I believe in the right of people to spend their hard-earned money as they choose and ii) my profound belief in and passion for the educational product here at Framlingham - that has very few genuine equivalents in the maintained sector - and we must not apologise for that.
I hope you understand my meaning when I say that it should be the aim of every Secretary of State for Education to make independent schools unnecessary but please, in the meantime, let's use our schools - alongside the many excellent schools in the state sector - as aspirational Highest Common Factors to share good practice and educational philosophy rather than run the danger of succumbing to the Lowest Common Denominator model of education.
- Paul Taylor steps down as Framlingham College head at the end of this summer term, and will be replaced by Louise North in September.