Beaucamps head disputes ‘lack of parity’ in secondaries
THE head teacher of Les Beaucamps High School wants to reassure students, parents and the wider community that the breadth and balance of the local curriculum in Years 10 and 11 is comparable with the best schools in England.
I feel compelled to write in order to address a number of issues in relation to the article printed on pages one and two of the Guernsey Press on Friday 21st February. The article gave the impression that students in Guernsey are being (and have been) let down or disadvantaged by the curriculum offer in Key Stage 4.
I don’t believe that to be the case and would like to reassure students, parents and the wider community that the breadth and balance within our KS4 curriculum is comparable with the best schools in England and that where there are differences, they are mostly choices made by the individual school rather than limitations due to the size of the schools.
I believe the article was misleading, drew conclusions from data without a full understanding of the data or its context and was completely lacking in balance. I will outline my specific concerns below.
1. The article claimed to be an analysis of the GCSE and other KS4 qualifications offered by the four state secondary schools. It was not. It simply listed subjects currently studied. It did not take into account subjects that may have been offered by schools but which are not currently running due to lack of demand by students. So, some of the differences in the table provided will have been due to lack of demand from students rather than from an inability of schools to offer these subjects.
2. The article cites science as an example of inequalities within the current structure, referring to the ‘gold-plated’ offer available at the Grammar School and the inference that St Sampson’s students are disadvantaged because some students only take one science qualification. Two points here; what is this ‘gold-plated’ offer? Presumably, the fact all students at the Grammar School take either two or three science GCSEs. Exactly the same as is currently the case at Les Beaucamps. However, in previous years there have been students who have only taken one science qualification at LBHS. Importantly, this has not been because of the school being unable to offer more, rather it was because one science qualification was the most appropriate as part of the overall curriculum package for those individuals.
3. The article implied that there was currently an inequality in the curriculum available across the four schools. This is not necessarily the case – there may be a difference in the offer, but that doesn’t mean there is inequality. Looking at the subjects currently studied, there are 26 different courses available in three of the schools and 28 in the fourth. That would appear to represent a broad and balanced offering in each of the schools. Where there are differences in subjects or courses available, this will be due to decisions being made at school leadership level as to the most appropriate curriculum for a particular cohort, taking into account their prior learning, aims and aspirations and the expertise and experience of the staff available.
Where a course cannot be offered in a particular school that is deemed essential or important to a particular student’s future aims or interests schools will collaborate to ensure that, if available in another local school, the student will have access to that course. This has happened regularly but infrequently over recent years with courses such as GCSE music, DT (resistant materials) and computer science, for instance. To make a quick comparison of our offering with that in successful English schools I checked the breadth of courses available in two successful schools that I know of. One, a large 11-16 comprehensive school (1,200 students) in the north-west, offers 26 different courses at KS4. The second school is The Cotswold School, an Ofsted Outstanding 11-18 School in Gloucestershire with around 1,350 students on roll. This school also offers 26 different courses. Unsurprisingly, these two very successful schools do not offer the same 26 courses as each other. It is worth remembering that well-worn phrase ‘equality of opportunity doesn’t necessarily mean all schools or all students doing the same things, rather that all students have opportunities to follow a broad and balanced curriculum in line with their aims and aspirations’. To imply that schools do not currently provide such opportunities is, I believe, misleading at best.
4. The article also makes the claim that in the ‘one school, two college model’ there will be an increased ability for schools to meet the full combination of student choices of KS4 options subjects. This is likely to be true, as larger schools will have more flexibility in the blocking and timetabling of those optional subjects. However, the current success rate of schools in meeting these combinations of subjects is, I believe, already very good. In the two schools I have worked in most recently all students have been able to study three out of four first choices, with a small number (less than 20%) having to compromise on their fourth choice by taking one of their reserve options. This is normal practice in all schools I have ever worked in or come across.
Of course we can always look to offer more and different courses to our students and seek to better meet individual choices and preferences. Whether that actually provides a better quality of education however is a debatable point. The key thing that we need to continue to do in our schools is ensure that we offer sufficient breadth and diversity, along with high quality and internationally-recognised qualifications. Couple this with high quality teaching, pastoral care and progression guidance and our young people will continue to be well-served.
Regardless of the current debate on the future structure of secondary education in Guernsey, I do believe it was misleading and potentially alarmist to present the article in the way you did on Friday and am grateful to you for the opportunity to provide some context and balance to that piece.
Head teacher, Les Beaucamps High School.
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