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The Croydon head teacher who put pupils before percentage points - and lost his job

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HEAD teacher David Clark is leaving Archbishop Lanfranc after 29 years, as it becomes the latest Croydon school to be converted into an academy. Chief reporter Gareth Davies speaks to the head who put pupils before percentage points, and cost himself his job in the process. WHEN last year's GCSE results came in at Archbishop Lanfranc, David Clark knew what was coming. Among the most challenging year groups of his 29 years at the school, only 39 per cent left with at least five A* to C grades including English and maths, one per cent below the government's minimum standard. "I knew on that day we would be an academy," he recalls. "The inevitable consequence of poor exam results followed by an Ofsted inspection is a bad report, whatever the inspectors see. "I remember seeing the results and thinking 'that's it'. Then, coincidentally, Ofsted came in the first week of term and I was right." The school, in Mitcham Road, was judged "inadequate" and placed in special measures. Government policy means any school deemed to be failing is converted into an academy and, almost a year later, Lanfranc is coming to the end of that process. In September, it will reopen as an academy led by the Coloma Trust. It is a new start for the school, but the end for Mr Clark. But that is only part of the story. To understand the rest, and to realise why his departure is a loss to education in Croydon, ask why he has doubts about remaining in the industry. "There are aspects of the way the system is run at the moment which I don't find to my tastes," he said. "We have a set of principles here which I think are quite important, including the belief that all kids, no matter what challenges they may pose, should be in school and that children should not be used to manipulate results. "The whole notion that children are excluded or lost from the system is completely anathema to me. We could have massaged our results by doing those things, but we never did." Grade manipulation, either by excluding difficult pupils, moving them to other schools or enrolling pupils in "easier" courses, has been going on for years, but Mr Clark believes the rise of academies has made the practices even more prevalent – "they can't be allowed to fail" – and, consequently, made it even harder for schools like Lanfranc to compete. For a start, Mr Clark has a steadfast belief in offering places to every pupil who needs one, no matter what their circumstances. This means Lanfranc takes a higher proportion of pupils with behavioural problems or who do not speak English than many other schools in Croydon, often late on in their secondary school lives. Meanwhile, Harris Federation, which is will open its seventh and eighth academies in Croydon in September, has been asked to explain why so many of its pupils "disappear" ahead of their exam year. Harris and Oasis Community Learning, another prominent academy chain in Croydon, had six schools in a list of those whose 2013 GCSE year group shrank the most between 2010 and 2013. "There's nothing new about this," said Mr Clark, who arrived at Lanfranc as deputy head in 1985 before being promoted a decade later. "The business of 'disappearing' children in Croydon is something people working in the town have known about for many years. It's happening more now because there's so much pressure on schools to get the right results." Mr Clark has also stubbornly refused to follow schools that push pupils to take BTEC or other equivalents, which are seen as easier than GCSEs. Last year's league tables showed, for the first time, the EBacc, a performance measure set by the Government and achieved if pupils get a C or better in core subjects such as English, maths, history, the sciences and a language. Only 8 eight per cent of pupils took the EBacc at Harris Academy Purley and just 15 per cent did at Quest Academy, another former local authority school run by the Coloma Trust. In comparison 57 per cent took the Ebacc at Lanfranc. Mr Clark said: "For as long as I can remember schools have manipulated results by offering courses that are equivalent to GCSEs but, if people are honest, are not the same standard or difficulty and don't have the same currency later on in life. We've resisted that. More than 85 per cent of pupils in last year's Year 11 took a GCSE in a foreign language because I believe it's important. We could have got better results by going for easier subjects, but I don't think that's right." Speaking to Mr Clark, iHe is concerned those principles will be forgotten when the school becomes an academy. "Of course it worries me," he said. "I don't want it to happen. No one in an academy will say they're doing anything other than what's in the best interests of the children, it's just there's a considerable difference in our interpretation of what those best interests are." Asked whether it felt like sticking to his convictions had cost him his job, Mr Clark said: "Yes it does, absolutely. Ultimately, I'm responsible. "I've taken the view that we should stick by our beliefs, but I've been blessed with staff, and the majority of parents, who have bought into what we stand for. "One of the first things I say to new staff is that our school is part of this community and our community has a right to send its children here and we have an obligation to keep them. "So we take children from pupil referral units looking for a second chance, or someone who has arrived in Year 10 speaking little to no English. I knew what to expect when it came to GCSE results, but I would rather lose a fraction of a per cent off the data than say to that child 'There's no place for you here', because the only reason for turning them away is to protect your results. "People probably think that makes me at best a liberal, at worst a left-wing extremist. I'm not either of those things but it is what I believe in." Next Tuesday the school will throw a party for Mr Clark Mr Clark and a number of other staff who have, for a variety of reasons, chosen to leave at the end of term. Wednesday will be their last day at Lanfranc. Mr Clark will return, however, for the exam results in August, and is confident the school will be celebrating its best ever exam results. He said: "One of the things I will never forget is that this year could have been the most awful year in the life of the school, but the people here, the children and the staff, have made it one of the best the school has ever had. "The teachers have worked even harder than they have before and the children have been a joy to work with. "I think everyone has been determined to prove that the situation we are in is not a fair reflection of what the school is about."

The Croydon head teacher who put pupils before percentage points - and lost his job


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