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Friday, 24 August 2012

Dear Mr Gove

Dear Mr Gove,

Since yesterday's results came out a lot has been said. Much has focused on numbers - percentages, grade boundaries and such. Personally, I'd like to write to you about some young people I know. I know these young people very well; many of them, I've seen most days since they were 11. Some have arrived later, and I've been privileged to get to know them. They're not, by and large, from the rosiest backgrounds, and most people don't expect too much from them. Judging by what some people say, we shouldn't expect much from them - they're 'barely literate', from the wrong post code, or haven't got the right type of parents.

These young people have been left heart broken and despondent by the pressure you have subtly, oh so subtly, exerted on exam boards. Pressure to stop 'grade inflation'. Pressure to discredit an exam system you wish to change, to destroy a comprehensive system which you wish to privatise and monetise. They feel, right now, that their futures are threatened. They've already spent their teenage years living in a depression caused by your fellow ideologues, fans of market forces and deregulation. I seem to remember you decrying teachers as 'ideologues'. You accused us of being 'enemies of promise' and 'happy with failure'. I assume your fantastically rigorous education means you are fully aware of the irony here.

Anyway. I'm being sidetracked. I want to talk about those people I mentioned earlier. I want you to know exactly why I, and others, will fight you to the bitter end.

I'll start with a young man who joined us halfway through year ten. This young man is an inspiration to me and many members of staff at my school.  His English wasn't great, but he could make himself understood, and it was clear he was a natural intellectual. Initially, we communicated through his burgeoning English and my poor French (I only went to a comprehensive, so I'm obviously not fluent. Oh that it had been an academy!) This young man worked incredibly hard. When learning skills in lessons he constantly asked for feedback, always asked for further detail when I marked his work, and always kept trying to improve. Over the time I taught him, he, in many respects taught me more. He taught me, through his Controlled Assessment, about his worldview and inspiring figures in his life. He revised and revised for the exams. He worked hard at speaking in a fashion that would enable him to attain a higher grade at Speaking and Listening. His analysis of the works of Blake, a poet I'm sure you admire, as I do, whom I ensure is studied by all of the students at my school, was perceptive, powerful and original. He knew his targets, he worked towards them. I told him he'd get that grade, and go onto even greater academic achievements in the future.

He achieved them. Had I entered this brilliant young man, a young man with realistically grand political ambitions, in January, he would have achieved a most impressive C grade. Yes. An impressive C grade. There is such a thing.

This young man will go on to succeed, to make his mark on the world, but right now, he feels scared that he can't go to the college of his choice. He fears that he won't be able to make the difference he knows he can.

I'll let you know when he does. He might even tell you himself. I hope he does.

An entirely different case is that of a young woman, from an often turbulent background which reflects the often tough reality of life in an inner city. For many complex reasons, she lacks confidence in herself. This is often expressed in a quite dramatic fashion. To get her into an assessment was often a challenge. To get her into lessons at times when life outside of school was working its way into the classroom was a challenge. Ultimately, with support from a caring team who know their pupils unbelievably well, we got her into the state of mind that she could achieve. All of that disadvantage was left behind as she began to work like a dream, recovering from a shaky start. She never quite believed me when I told her she had made it, as far as we knew, to a C. All of her work was at least C grade, with creative writing higher, and her exams pushing for a B.

Yet she went to school yesterday and was told she had only achieved a D.

There are countless more stories at my school alone, hundreds across my city, and thousands, no doubt, across the county. Who will have been most affected? The least advantaged, those that need the most support in this Big Society of ours. Pupils who didn't have private tutors, or tiny class sizes, or the most supportive background. It would appear that your actions, for they are yours, despite your weasel words when interviewed, are prejudiced - racist and classist. Your politics disadvantage the already disadvantaged.

Why? To turn schools like mine, hard working and innovative schools with proud places in their communities, into part of an academy chain, to make money, because the market knows best, as the Libor scandal and the rest of the nonsense that is modern capitalism has already shown to be wrong. Ironically, many academies have been hit, because many are in deprived areas, where we appear to, coincidentally, find these C / D borderline students.

I'm happy for those that succeeded because they entered children in January. But I'm beyond gutted for all the children who, like mine, have had their dreams dashed and their hard work negated by this political decision, playing to the gallery of right wing ideologues who believe the NHS is costly, the police should be privatised and that public sector workers are merely pension chasers. I'm gutted for the staff who feel like they've lied to the children they care about and work for, every day, for years, in the most challenging conditions.

However, I am happy for you. You love a little controversy, you love looking tough. Please remember though, that picking on children is mere bullying, and you, Sir, would appear to be a mere bully.

Thank you for taking the time to read my letter, and please remember that this is not over. We, staff and pupils alike, will rise again, and work to show you and those like you exactly what we can achieve, regardless of your pesky meddling.

Yours sincerely,

JD







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