Southend’s outstanding schools

Less than a month ago, I posted an article on this blog that had the title “Southend’s inadequate schools, and this was in response to the rather disturbing headline in my own local newspaper: “1 in 4 schools branded as inadequate“. Today, I received among my emails one from Southend High School for Boys (SHSB), the school my son is attending and I attended, attaching the just published report following the recent Ofsted inspection of the school. Along with the other three town grammar schools, SHSB had earlier been rated as outstanding. Unsurprisingly, the school was also rated as being “outstanding” this time and under all of the headings. This is the highest possible achievable rating, which is in stark contrast to those of nearby schools that have been rated “inadequate“, the lowest possible rating. Understandably, the school was rather pleased with this result. Credit where credit is due; those involved in having so  achieved rightly deserve to be praised and I readily do so here.

I should firstly preface my thoughts about the school’s performance with the comment “I declare an interest” and both mother and son will kill me if I were to cite said son when it comes to the giving of examples. It cannot be denied that the school has a good starting point insofar it is a grammar school that can and does select the cream of the crop when admitting pupils when aged 11 and, in the sixth form five years later, for it can and does select only those who have performed very well at GCSE. Having read through the report, there was nothing in it I could disagree with and the questions I raised in my “inadequate schools” blog, as being those I would want to ask any school my child might attend, can all be answered in the affirmative. While there will always be those who underachieve, it is quite clear that pupils are given opportunities such that they can and do achieve well in all areas and few it seems are left out – one of the criticisms that has traditionally been directed at schools like SHSB are their dealings with those who don’t quite fit the school mould.

While it has little to do with the mandatory core curriculum, I can vouch that what I saw when I attended to school concert just before Christmas, when a quarter of the school took part, had that rare wow factor (my equivalent to Craig giving a 10 in Strictly Come Dancing!) And music, as with sport, are just two from an extensive range of extra-curricular activities where the school does excel, encourages its pupils to participate and recognises it when its pupils are thus involved, as I can also vouch. Moreover, I like how the email the school sent me, along with all its other parents, concludes: “Southend High School for Boys is a continuously improving organisation:  this school is better today than it was a year ago and, notwithstanding the outstanding ratings, rest assured we will continue to strive to be even better this time next year“, and I for one wish it well in these aspirations and in meeting these challenges. One challenge I would like to present is getting even more serious when it comes to pupil involvement in community activism!

Having poured out such glowing yet justified praise on SHSB, there is a sense of sadness and of the enormous challenge that is before us, the people who live in Southend, whose children attend Southend’s schools. Like Ofsted, I recognise SHSB’s commitment to equality and diversity, and that social status is a non issue as far as the school is concerned. Yet there appears to be a huge gulf between the school’s “outstanding” accolade and that of some of is “inadequate” rated neighbours. These overall attract those who are worse off when it comes to social class and privilege. It is not my intention here to elaborate on my education philosophy or argue for or against local grammar schools or comment on the fact that half of their intakes do not even reside in the borough. I have already aired my thoughts on these matters in some of my previous blog postings and writings, and the discussion will no doubt long continue. However, much as I am pleased to see such a glowing report and am delighted for the pupils whose good fortune it is to be able to attend this outstanding school, it is also with a heavy heart that I have to conclude there are many pupils who are less fortunate, and let down even. I have to ask that million dollar question that no-one has yet answered it seems: how can/do we remedy such a situation?

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