Another year, another set of Department for Education Performance tables, another version which offers yet another set of ways in which to judge a school and another opportunity to reflect on what schools are actually for. Fulston Manor has, once again, done very well on the measures that have been dictated to us, whichever of the ever increasing number of columns we choose to use, but I am, as ever, left wondering whether this is the right way to grade our schools.
It all started, of course, with Margaret Thatcher - for those of a different generation she is the strange lady played by Meryl Streep in this year’s film. As a grocer’s daughter Mrs Thatcher understood competition, the need to compare one shop with another and the requirement for customers to be able to make informed choices. How good are the apples, are the rolls in Burger King superior to the ones in Macdonalds and will your hard earned money be better spent in Sainsbury or Tesco? Logically, if it is important to make good choices when doing the weekly shop, how much more important is it to make the right decision when considering the education of children?
As far as it goes, of course, this is right and makes perfect sense. There are good schools and there are bad schools, it should not be secret which is which. The problem comes when it is recognised that education is not like the grocery business and that terminal examinations results, important as they are, are not the only measure. Somewhere in the mix comes happiness, and joy and adventure and personal development and excitement and aspiration and relationships and wonder and awe and all the things that make life so special.
Many years ago there were a series of 30 minute radio plays broadcast, one of which focused on a man’s quest to prove the existence of the soul. His plan was based on the hypothesis that the soul must weigh something and revolved around the idea of weighing someone, killing them and then weighing them again. As the soul leaves the body on the moment of death, he argued that the body would therefore be lighter, proving its existence. Whilst perhaps “soul” is the wrong word to describe all the intangible yet vital elements that make a school outstanding I am in no doubt that Fulston Manor possesses these elements in abundance and trust they may be measured without recourse to the dramatic measures of 1980’s radio dramas.