National Grammar Schools Association
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Playing politics with an excellent school

News that Stretford Grammar School,  situated in Trafford local authority, is the first grammar school to be put in 'special measures' for ineffectiveness should not, perhaps,   concern parents too much, except for one reason: it has all the hallmarks of a nasty political stitch-up (see also News Reports on this website.)

HMI Vincent  Ashworth, the lead inspector responsible for the report, should be ashamed of himself. His report acknowledges that 'almost two thirds of students are from minority ethnic
backgrounds'. Also that 'around 30% of students speak a first language other than English.'

He also acknowledges that although some lessons are judged to be poor, in others 'progress is brisk and learning is with understanding. Teaching in drama, music, history, English and modern foreign languages exemplifies these strong features.'

His criticisms of the school are more to do with the management than academic standards. For some year groups he reports that information and communication technology (ICT) is unsatisfactory, as are physical education, personal, social and health education (PSHE) and Citizenship. 'Provision for  PSHE', he reports, 'lacks cohesion and arrangements for sex and relationship education are underdeveloped'.   

Those who care more about academic achievement than indoctrination may think  Vincent Ashworth can only find fault with areas of the curriculum that good schools avoid as far as possible!  It is notable, too, that the inspector provides no objective evidence to support his conclusions.    

Vincent Ashworth's antipathy towards Stretford Grammar School is also evident from the fact that in his explanatory letter to pupils, he stresses that they excel in drama and music, but fails to tell them about the 'strong' teaching of English, which is a huge plus-mark, especially in a school with a majority of pupils from ethnic minority backgrounds.

With 92% of  Stretford's pupils achieving 5 or more grade A*-C GCSEs including English and maths, and a thriving sixth form, what  is the inspectors' problem?  Why aren't he and his colleagues concentrating their efforts on improving  the comprehensive schools in nearby Manchester, where only 14% or 15% of pupils achieve  5 or more grade A*-C GCSEs including English and maths?

Incidentally, the national average for this benchmark is 48%.  In selective Trafford, the  average is 64%  –  16% above the norm.  In comprehensive Manchester, the average is 37% – 11% below the norm.  

Why a political stitch-up?  Beverley Hughes, the MP for Stretford, is a Labour minister. Tony McNulty, one of her ministerial colleagues (who is currently in trouble over his Parliamentary expenses) is married to Christine Gilbert, the chief inspector of schools. And by allowing such unfair attacks on good schools, is Ed Balls, the education secretary, seeking favour with extreme left-wingers, perhaps as a prelude to an eventual bid for the party leadership?     

People will judge for themselves.

24 March 2009