I spent most of this week working alongside Oldham local authority.
As you will recall, Oldham is classified by central government as being an ‘Opportunity Area’. In short, this means that the borough receives extra funding to deal with some of the challenges we face.
So, what are the main challenges?
Contrary to popular belief, Oldham does not have more children and young people with education, health and care plans than our statistical neighbours. Interestingly, as a percentage of our population, we have a lower percentage than Rochdale. What is a fact, however, is that the growth in the number of plans over the last 3 years, and Oldham’s capacity to respond to this growth, has been a real challenge.
All our Oldham schools have seen a massive pressure on places. Interestingly, Hawthorns, our Tameside school, is facing similar pressures. In January of this year New Bridge agreed a commissioned number of places of 394. As of yesterday, we were faced with 427 children either on roll or wanting places. We are faced with the same challenge at Hollinwood Academy. Building extensions in all our schools will help ease our space and capacity issues.
A second significant challenge facing the borough is the gap in attainment between children and young people who have additional needs and those who do not. I find this statistic quite challenging as the measures used, in my opinion, are usually quite narrow. The ‘gap’ is often measured using attainment in educational tests. It may be a phonics screen at Key Stage 1, a standardised test (SAT) at Key Stage 2, GCSE results (4-9), Progress 8 and other such methods. Agencies tend to use these measures as they are easy to collect and readily available. However, if we continue to only ‘value’ a very narrow range of performance criteria, it has the real potential to disenfranchise a significant proportion of the population.
Many, many Oldham children are turned off by a ‘traditional’ academic curriculum. What’s been evidently noticeable over the last few years is the curriculum offer in many schools has become narrower. The opportunity area is desperately looking at how we can, collectively, co-construct a vocational or practical curriculum offer that engages all learners. Some of the work we do within the trust is beyond outstanding – I’m particularly thinking of our pathways, our pre-internships and our personalised curriculum offers.
I chaired a meeting of our executive team on Friday that centred around a revised model called ‘keeping our schools great’. When we started to analyse what we meant by ‘great’, we spent as much time discussing the ‘hidden curriculum’ as we did discussing external exams and tests! We looked at how our schools offer wonderful experiences such as going to sports events and the theatre. Who could forget ‘The Greatest Show’? (DVDs available!) We discussed the values that we instill – compassion, optimism, creativity, determination, innovation.
As a parent myself, I know I’m passionate about making sure my own children’s school is preparing them to be great citizens, to be able to communicate well, behave appropriately and play a part in their communities. Our schools are at the forefront of capturing and making sense of all of this. Progress in everything – academic subjects, personal well-being, interaction with others, positive relationships, being as independent as possible. Our list goes on and on.
Can I say a huge well done to all the young people that took their GCSEs this week? We know it’s stressful. I’m hoping New Bridge will get a visit from Ofsted next week – they are overdue and it would be brilliant to showcase some of the work.
Have a great weekend,
You can find all Graham’s previous blog entries here