Education must get balance right to get top grade itself

There’s been no smug self-congratulation at the Education Department after the much-improved GCSE results at the high schools. Instead, the talk has been of maintaining that improvement.  But it will have to do that, as Nick Mann reports, while implementing the changes highlighted in the Mulkerrin review – and with £7m. less to spend.

IT IS amazing what shining a light on a problem can achieve. The turnaround in GCSE results at Guernsey’s high schools owes much to the campaign to release results that were comparable with England, broken down by each school, that had been so strongly resisted by the department.

Without it Education’s then board members would have remained in the dark and much of the action taken to reverse the downward trend at La Mare, in particular, would not have happened.

But now the real challenge comes.

There is a blueprint for serious reform outlined in the Mulkerrin review of secondary education – something else that would not have happened without the release of the results – which has the potential to drive up standards so that the island becomes a centre of excellence.

With that comes the potential to quash any arguments over the 11-plus – with all secondary schools performing to a high level anyone fearful of affecting the top performers because of comprehensive education has a very weak argument indeed.

Education minister Robert Sillars was keen to stress last week that the foot would not be taken off the pedal of reform just because of the excellent results achieved, however.

He said the turnaround at La Mare was all down to putting the right structure and the right people in place.

‘Having the right head teacher was fundamental to that,’ he said.

‘Vicky Godley was deputy head in September last year, and we appointed her head teacher in April. The view was we wanted a head teacher in place as soon as possible, for continuity for the children and teachers.

Support was also brought in in the form of top head teacher Geoff Cowley for nearly a year.

‘He was inspirational in terms of the cultural change and getting things right,’ said Deputy Sillars.

Extra maths and English experts were parachuted into the school – and also more help was directed at St Sampson's High.

‘Also the Education Department really worked closely with La Mare in the right way. Getting accurate, time-critical data for each child is crucial. That’s been a huge difference for all the schools and I hope that the morale of the teachers and things have risen by proving what students can achieve.’

Education continues to shy away from setting performance targets, at least in public.

Deputy Sillars would not rule it out in the future, but was keen that they were not just plucked from the air.

It would require even better performance data to be kept, and some that would also make Guernsey comparable with other jurisdictions around the world.

For Deputy Sillars, and for others, it is also important that any targets recognise improvement in students who might not be getting the top grades.

It is going to be a tight balancing act for Education this term.

The level of improvement that can be achieved has been shown, and the A-level results have also been very positive. Now it needs to help the schools keep that upward trend running while slashing some £7m. from its budget.

Nothing in terms of cuts has been ruled out.

It is also moving forward with some of the key reforms recommended by Mulkerrin, among them updating the 1970 Education Law and bringing in local management of schools.

Working parties have been set up with head teachers to drive forward proposals that will be suitable for Guernsey, with initial thoughts going to the board this month.

The department is also going to go to consultation on its vision for the next 15 to 20 years shortly.

Once in place with public buy-in, the vision will give a benchmark to judge every decision made by Education.