Vocational free school in Lewisham?

The News Shopper reports that a local group called Diaspora is hoping to open a free school specialising in Lewisham teaching vocational skills to boys. On their website, they say:

Lewisham is a large net exporter of pupils to other boroughs and also has one of the highest unemployment rates in London. Children are leaving primary school without the basic skills to follow the curriculum set in secondary school in turn this results in them leaving secondary school where without the relevant life skills for success.

The underachievement of White working class boys & Black British/ Caribbean boys is creating a cohort of excluded children, who are placed at a severe disadvantage when entering adult life. Parents and the community are eager for a solution.

Vocational learning at school is under-appreciated and under-provided in Britain, compared for example, with the German system.

For some people, the acknowledgement that different people have different aptitudes seems to be an admission of defeat - encouraging people to study plumbing rather than History is seen as pigeon-holing people, in a way that - say - encouraging people to specialise in music isn't. That's wrong-headed. So this is an interesting idea, although it comes with all the usual caveats about the viability and desirability of the free school principle.

41 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why not just say "boys from low-income backgrounds"? And why not open it up to both genders?

Anonymous said...

Children are leaving primary school without the basic skills to follow the curriculum set in secondary schools.

Why is this happening then ??

Tamsin said...

@anon 15.30 - because that is pussy-footing around the actual statistics . It is more boys than girls and poverty is not the main factor - those of Indian and Bangladeshi ethnicity are not high in these failure figures even though they may be eligible for free school meals (the most convenient poverty measure).

THNick said...

Tamsin - poverty isn't the main factor? Children who get school meals are 3 times more likely to get less than 5 GCSEs. Even for Indian children (who as you say are the highest acheivers on average), having free school meals makes you twice as likely to get less than 5 GCSEs. Race clearly is also a big factor, but that doesnt mean that poverty isn't.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's something they are putting in the semolina?

Anonymous said...

Mmmmm Semolina

Anonymous said...

'Parents and community are eager for a solution..'
When will parents actually take some ownership of their children's education? It seems that failure is always someone else's problem. Perhaps if some parents took more interest in the success of their children things might improve. This is afterall what the Asian families do - they encourage their children to do well at school!

Anonymous said...

Anon at 2001 - quite right.

Nick, by the way, who says that history is any better or worse than plumbing? I know which is more useful (and better paid!). The idea that vocational skills are somehow inferior to "academic" subjects is very outdated and, dare I say it, very lower/middle middle class.

Brockley Nick said...

That was precisely my point!!!

Anonymous said...

Tory education policy propaganda...

Brockley Nick said...

Which part is the tory propaganda? The News Shopper report? My article? The group themselves? The bit about vocational education? The bit about too many children in Lewisham failing? The bit about the particular problems faced by certain communities? The comments this discussion has provoked?

jerry said...

The voices in anons head?

Anonymous said...

The problem with the 'free' schools is there doesn't appear to be a need for what they are doing.
Yes vocational education is good but why can't all schools have vocational aspects?
Will the 'free' schools take funding away from other schools?

Brockley Nick said...

I don't particularly support the free school principle, but surely that's the point? People who want to set up schools themselves do so a) out of frustration about local options and b) because they believe there are specific local needs that aren't best served by a standard national template?

It might take years / decades to win the argument in favour of vocational emphasis at national level - free schools give people who are passionate about a particular idea to do something about it.

Anonymous said...

trouble is the main people taking up this 'free' school idea will be religious groups teaching creationism and other nonsense.

Anonymous said...

Yup, those white males are always getting the short end of the stick. When will society ever give them their fair due?

patrick1971 said...

Good initiative and I hope it succeeds.

mb said...

@anon 08:15, the article said "White working class boys" which are a group that have been demonstrated to be in need of extra help, not exclusivley of course. Look at me, I'm BRILLIANT. Like Nick says, the one size fits all model can be crude. It's all a bit arbitary though, I ended up in one of the best comprehensives in London (Creighton, now Fortismere. It was luck pure and simple. Interestingly they ran an experiment when I was there to 'bus in' kids from poorer parts of the borough in order, I guess, to break down the ghetoisation? No idea if they followed it up to see if educational acheivement increased?


Don't think the policy is aimed at white boys who go to private school in Blackheath.

Kay said...

It's good to know that Diaspora is causing such a debate. It's also interesting to note that everyone is just focusing on the vocational side of the school. Diaspora High School will offer its students an academic and vocational education. They will not be steered into a vocational choice instead of an academic one. Teaching is a vocation, as is being a doctor or lawyer and students will be paired with a mentor from their chosen field who will commit to being involved in their schooling, offer them work experience and a minimum of a three month placement when they leave school/university, if that is their chosen route. This will ensure that NO student joins the dole queue. What will make Diaspora different, is the duty of care towards the students, educating and nurturing them from nursery to industry, whatever that may be. It will also be different in its management style, which is open and hands-on with what is going on in the school, where all staff will feel supported. You may well ask, why just boys? I am a mother of three girls and one boy. I have no objection to girls, but in Diaspora, I want the boys to stay focused, without the distraction of girls around them. After nearly 33 years in education, I know what I'm talking about! Just being born male, puts boys under pressure by society in general to perform/deliver and I aim to bring up the next generation of responsible men, who are focused, know what an honest day's work feels like and can provide for their families, thus removing the benefits culture which many young people grow up under as the norm. This is not aimed at colour or creed. This is a fact. Lewisham has the highest number of 18-24 year olds out of work in the country. What are the existing schools doing about it? The idea for this school did not just come about under this coalition government, but in fact, five years ago, I took the idea to a Local Authority and they were only interested if it was going to be a private school. Therefore I've reintroduced it under the free school initiative and why not? For those of you still in doubt about how it would work, why not come along to our meeting next week Saturday at St. Swithuns Church Hall in Hither Green, from 5-7pm. My team and I would be happy to answer your queries. I look forward to seeing you there!

Mb said...

You make being a lazy feckless bloke sound like an invalid career choice, always worked for me.

hamble said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
hamble said...

SOAPBOX POST.

Ive just started tutoring a friend's son in maths. He is just about to turn 16, and attends the worst (by results) school in Lewisham.

He has got away with doing no homework since October and didnt know how to calculate the surface area of a triangle. He has zero motivation, zero commitment. He is defeatist and has zero expectations of himself.

Having met his teachers, I can say they range from inspiring to lazy and bored. I blame my friend AND the school.
She relied on the school too much, she assumed too much and didnt ask enough questions. The school cut parents out of the homework cycle.

Homework is done and submitted online where it is marked by computer programme. Unless you happen to be sitting beside your child at the time, you'll never get to see the homework.

On the screen there is no space for working things out, drawing geometric shapes yourself and calculating angles. This boy struggled to hold a compass. And yet he picked it all up in 2 days of intensive tuition.

15 years ago my mother decided that Lewisham schools were not good enough for her children and with Prendergast was MASSIVELY over subscribed we were sent out of borough to fee paying schools.
Looking at last years exam results- what has changed? Nothing, except Lewisham have decided to dilute the Prendergast brand by slapping their name over 2 failing schools. *slow hand clap*

Im glad this Free School is being set up because this council has repeatedly demonstrated over DECADES that it cannot educate our children. It has failed and continues to do so.

Lewisham obfuscates and misleads, the councillors talk of schools making 'steady progress' and their are glossy brochures and ads in the paper but the truth is Lewisham has failed its students over *generations.*
But hey it doesnt matter, parents with the wherewithal will act in their own best interests - there are over 10 Independent fee paying schools in and around the borough. While most others muddle through not quite achieving their potential, there is a hardcore of kids who continue failing badly. The children of low income families always destined to achieve little, right? Give them a shiny new building to show off about maybe no one will notice the kids cant read.

Whether its dogma, ideology, poverty, cultural barriers or plain political correctness making people uneasy about tackling Lewisham's failing schools head on, it still needs dealing with. Im glad the team behind Diaspora are actually doing something positive, because Lewisham cant afford its 2011 school leavers to be as lost and without hope as its schoool leavers in 2010, 2009, 2008...

Ditch the shitty teachers, ensure retention of the good ones so kids dont have put up with 4 teachers in one year. Ditch the political correctness, have school mentors be more imaginative- compulsory after school homework clubs, take the lazy kids to task, expect more from them and stay on them until they deliver. Institute discipline with real consequences. Have their parents in BEFORE the shit hits the fan, AND stop relying on technology to do the basics.

And breathe!

Brockley Nick said...

Good post, thank you.

I agree with a lot of what you say.

In my view, as someone who went to a fairly crappy secondary school and a good university, the key difference is expectation. The kids at my university all expected to do well - they were ambitious and not afraid to talk about what they knew and what they could do.

At secondary school, that would make you a boffin.

In large part, I think the problem is that many of the middle class kids, who have that kind of confidence and ambition instilled in them from an early age disappear after Primary school (I think state primaries are pretty good, generally) in London and what's left are secondary schools dominated by a culture of low-expectations and low-attainment.

In other words, it's the same problem as we had with secondary moderns and grammar schools.

The easiest solution would be to force everyone in to the same schools - ridding private schools of their charitable status, etc.

But I don't advocate that. If education is a good thing, then we shouldn't tax it and we shouldn't rob parents of their right to choose.

The harder thing is to raise the standards across the board in state schools. Good head teachers can and do instill a culture of ambition in state secondary schools - we need more heads like this, more teachers who share that vision and a political culture that demands excellence rather than indulges failure.

We also need more middle class parents to give the state system a chance. Nothing makes my blood boil more than parents who talk about other parents who let their kids go to state secondaries in London as though they're committing child abuse.

Brockley Nick said...

When I say "easiest solution" by the way, I mean in theory, rather than practice. Flood our schools with high-achieving kids and their parents and they'd instantly be much better places for all. However, in practice, that would be politically and technically impossible.

Mb said...

Don't have kids so can only comment from my perspective of a state school 25 years ago. It was one of the best in the country (apparently) but one thing that was very apparent was that there were few teachers pushing me to do well, I was a semi swat but the idea of a university education never entered my head. My parent left school in their mid teens and had unskilled jobs, they were pleased that I was cruising through my O levels. At A level I tried to cruise it and came unstuck. The only time university was mentioned was when my physics teacher said that perhaps it wasnt for me. the teachers were great at teaching but poor maximising potential. It seemed to be left to you, with all your adolescent silliness.

I left the A levels after a year and did a BTEC at college. We had an excellent head of course who would not tolerate lateness in coursework, he simply wouldn't mark it. I was all set to finish and enter the world of work but our course head almost forced us all to apply to uni and poly, as he said you can always choose not to go. I got a few offers and here I am. I suspect that fee paying schools take it as read that if you are within sniffing distance of a university place they will make it clear that it is a place where you belong.

Having said all that, there's no reason why state schools should not work better. How many people on here with degrees would consider being a teacher, dealing with 30 adolecents for what is a deeply average salary? I'd have to be a head teacher to earn what I earn now, just wouldn't do it.

Headhunter said...

As you say, whether to split high achieving kids from less able/aspirational ones is a thorny issue. Like you, I went to a pretty sh!tty secondary school (after a decent primary school - also state run) and as you say, if you aspired to do well and actually tried to get stuff done in school, you were a swot and got picked on. Consequently I barely tried at secondary school, I still made it into the top level classes for every subject but there was little competition and nothing to aspire to, most of my fellow pupils were more interested in p!ssing around, so I aligned myself downwards. My parents always said they wished the grammar school system had been in place as they are sure I would have done better.

My dad was a maths teacher at a low achieving secondary school. He was strict and tried to push the kids as far as possible but I remember him moaning in the 80s at exactly the same issues highlighted here, that many of the parents at the school had little aspiration themselves and didn't work with schools get kids working. He said it was very difficult to provide a decent education for the higher achieving kids as the whole class tended to be dragged down by the lowest denominator.

I almost trained up to be a teacher a few years back. I went to watch some classes in action at schools in Islington (where I lived at the time) and the contrast was marked. I went to 1 school and the teacher handed out colouring books and scraps of paper for the unruly kids to waste their time on whilst he concentrated on those who actually wanted to work! This was a class of 15 year old kids doing GCSE French and about 5 or 6 of them at the back were colouring in like 3 year olds! Clearly he had given up on them. At another school, just about all the kids were attentive and engaging and took time to speak to me etc.

A friend of mine said that one of the major differences between state and private sector schools is that parents at private schools are almost over actively involved in school affairs and teaching whereas at failing state schools, they have zero interest. She worked in both state and private sectors and said that at the lower end schools, parents would hardly bother to turn up for open evenings whereas at private schools they were involved in just about every decision from how long they get in the playgrounds at break time, to food and snacks they are allowed to eat in school time to ensure maximum concentration....

Mb said...

But what if the parents haven't got a clue about what goes on at school? Or were themselves failed by the school system? I never bothered showing my parents my homework, they wouldn't have been able to help although I'm sure they would have liked too. If kids don't have parents who are equipped to deal with the education system then perhaps the schools should be. It's a cycle, in general the parents who can afford fee paying schools are the ones who have the money through some academic success. Homework clubs and extra tuition for those who need it, great. But will this (or any?) government fund that?

In my view one of the fundamental responsibilities of the state is to educate kids and maximise opportunity. A cynic would say that the government is happy for the state system to struggle so that it can call it a failure. I've heard people say that money is not the answer, odd hen you consider the fees charged by private schools.

Also hacked off with the derision heaped on teachers, there will be some slackers I'm sure but in general I think they deserve a medal.

Headhunter said...

I find it hard to believe that parents "don't have a clue" what goes on at school. Everbody went to school and knows what it entails. OK so not everyone is a qualified teacher, but simply taking an interest from an early age in what homework your child is being given is not difficult. If the kid doesn't want help then so be it... There's no need to be a pushy parent, but at least showing a basic interest is surely the least a parent can do.

Parents cannot pass off education as the state's sole responsibility, if parents don't back up school decisions (or criticise them when they don't agree), then teachers have a much weakened authority. A kid's education comes both at home and at school, not just school....

Mb said...

A parent who never did A levels, never went to university would not be as well equipped to help their child who may be approaching that stage, obvious isn't it? Not only would they not be as familiar, their kids may subconsciously believe that they are "not for us". I would hazard a guess that that you are far more likely to go to university if your parents did. It's not genetic, it's expectation.

Headhunter said...

Oh yes, at that age, certainly. Of course a parent is unlikely to be able to help an 18 year old with his A Level French essay critique-ing Sartre or whatever, but at the age of 18, you would assume that "kids" are able to motivate themselves a bit more and see a clearer future for themselves in the workplace (or you would hope).

I was thinking more along the lines of parents taking an interest in their children's education through primary and early secondary. If parents take at least a passing interest in their child's schooling through the younger years, the child is perhaps more likely to see how important it is and progress to higher ed through their own steam...

max said...

Maybe parents who never took A levels could give it a try later in life, they'd have a shared experience with their kids. Wouldn't do them any harm.

D said...

The way I see it, the point about parents not getting involved isn't always that they're not aware of what their kids are doing at school, or that they don't care. It's often the case that they think "My parents didn't do x,y and z for me when I was at school and I turned out just fine". It's not often that you'll find a parent who is objective enough to accept that they haven't realized their own potential, which makes it almost impossible to see that they may be having a negative effect on their children's abilities and future.

mb said...

But if the parents are unwilling, too tired or unable to tackle A levels in the evening as well as bring up the kids???

A childs life chances are affected by their parents, most parents are not deliberatly trying to hold their kids back. Thats why we have professionals who specialise in education - teachers. The idea of my parents doing A levels would have been laughable, both were bright, neither were educated. They worked their nuts off, harder than i ever have, but were simply not equiped to push me in the right direction. They also had the whole deferential working class thing, if a besuited teacher said uni was not for me, they would take that as a fact. I got lucky that I stumbled across an education professional who went beyond his remit - in the state sector. It can be done.

Lou Baker said...

Like many of you I went to a shitty comp which sent more kids to prison than to university.

We were told not to apply to the best unis because kids like us didn't go to them. My parents didn't know any better.

My experience at school left me with three over-riding beliefs. 1) good teachers matter. It is no coincidence that we all do best in subjects where we have enthusiastic, passionate teachers. 2) good parents matter. Read to your kids. Give them new and interesting experiences. You don't have to be rich to stimulate their minds.

3) Controversially, selection works. Grammar schools are great. The problem is that secondary moderns unfairly consigned large numbers of kids to the scrap heap. But although comprehensive education is a great idea - it helps no one. The best can't be taught fast enough, the worst often show little interest in learning - the result being everyone loses. Schools should cream out the best and the worst - and teach them separately and appropriately. Boys are often hugely disruptive - teaching them separately from girls in some subjects has some advantages too.

Everyone can excel at something. It is the job of schools and parents working together to ensure everybody does.

I'd prefer to send my kids to a state school. But if theydob't get places at a good one, they're going private. I won't compromise their future to make a point.

mb said...

I went to an excellent comprehensive, it needed a tweak to add a little ambition. My parents, both cleaners, would never have had the money or 'pushy parent' mentality to send me anywhere else.

Abandoning the State System as a failure is not a solution. I doubt eton would educate it's kids in portacabins and pay state wages.

No answers, only questions....

Brockley Nick said...

@MB - but your parents were hard working and engaged with your upbringing right? So you needed a teacher who would encourage you to stretch yourself a bit, academically. That is very different from a kids whose parents have, for example, never had a job, don't pay any interest in their children's development or aren't around or are incapable of looking after themselves, let alone their kids.

Kids from these sorts of backgrounds need support / intervention outside of school (and lots of kids don't even go to school half the time). Schools can only do so much and if they are spending all their time trying to cater for these kids, they don't have time to teach the rest of the kids properly.

Radical early intervention in dysfunctional families seems like the most plausible solution to me, but it will cost A LOT of money for a whole generation. 20 years of huge investment in early years education and services, youth facilities, sport and vocational training should just about do it, otherwise, we have a self-perpetuating underclass that represents a huge waste of potential and a massive ongoing cost to the state.

Mb said...

Well yes, but I detect the subtle (and not so subtle) noises from central government that state schools are a fundamental problem and not part of a potential solution. The services you describe should be integrated with the education system, I'm sure many teachers spot the signs of something going on with the failing kids but make a decision at some point to contain them, ignore them or exclude them and concentrate on the kids that are doing OK. Difficult to expect them to do anything else but to blame the limitations of the current state system would be wrong - there is little in the way of specialist intervention. That intervention would probably cost more per child than a normal education. The stroppy, dysfunctional kids will never make a good photo opportunity though, much as I'd like to see Gove get down with them. I can see the Mail headlines now - "£10,000 for hugs!"

Successive governments seem to see schools as an opportunity to experiment to an extent not seen elsewhere, although the NHS seems to be rivaling that. It must be massivly demoralising to be a teacher.

hamble said...

For sure integrated psychological and social services are expensive- but so is paying out dole money and sending kids to prison and young offenders institutions.

For economic reasons alone this needs to be tackled.

Some parents are working two or three jobs, not getting back till late and so even if they were capable of supervising homework, they simply arent around enough to do it properly.

If your child goes to a school where answering a question in class gets you roundly mocked then you need to be proactive and constantly vigilant to ensure your child doesnt play dumb too in order to conform. You're battling the prevailing classroom attitude and the teacher with the unconsciously lower expectations.

Does everyone here know Lewisham Police sent a letter to all parents of secondary aged kids (via the schools), asking the kids to find an alternate route home that didnt involve changing buses in Lewisham town centre.

Its hardly a wonder that this Free School has been instituted.

Ive been so shocked at what Ive discovered this past few months, what Lewisham schools and teachers tolerate- especially the convoluted disciplinary and support processes.

It needs to be holistic; enough with putting kids on report for months on end and the 15 minute detentions. If kids continually transgress there need to be sanctions of increasing severity in conjunction with increased educational and emotional support.

Where are the imaginative intervention programmes?

Anonymous said...

Where indeed? Politicians like detention, it's cheaper and shows that they don't tolerate louts. Intervention is labour intensive and expensive.

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone! I'm about to choose a secondary school for my son, can anyone enlighten me about Knights Academy in Downham? I have read everything I can on the internet, but I would love to hear from someone who has personal experience of the school.

Anonymous said...

Hi all, i would like to sa that i feel let down by the school system. My child sat exams for bexley and kent and achieved a very high score.In the 1st of march he was allocated a school that was not on our CAF.He hasn't stop crying. Its a shame that we have children in Lewisham that are very intelligent and no grammar school. Am not surprised to why most people will work in Lewisham but live elsewhere. Boroughs with better school.

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