Barwell’s schools arithmetic offers only a partial picture

GENE BRODIE, our education correspondent, has ordered a local MP to write 100 lines: “I must not deceive by using partial statistics on Croydon’s schools’ performance”

Gary Barlow, as the MP is known to his constituents in Croydon Central, from where he moonlights as the self-proclaimed bag-carrier to Education Secretary Michael Gove, really ought to know better.

school genericBut in his latest “Croydon News” missive, his party political e-newsletter compiled at great public expense, Gavin Barwell tries to fob-off those on his circulation list with a number of misleading half-truths about schools in Croydon.

“GCSE results a tribute to hard work of pupils and teachers – and the policies of our Conservative Council,” Barwell boasts boldly.

But caveat emptor applies here: Barwell, the man who does not know the price of a loaf of bread (and probably wouldn’t know how to turn on a bread-maker), has shown in the past how he clearly struggles with numbers, even small ones.

“The Council has given me a school-by-school analysis of this year’s GCSE results and the great news is that Croydon’s schools are now better than the national average and improving faster,” Barwell says.

Now, we all know that there is a school places crisis across London. In Croydon, that crisis has been aggravated by the “loss” of an entire school. Nearly two months after the borough’s 16-year-olds were given their individual GCSE results, Croydon Council has yet to publish complete figures for the borough’s schools’ results.

Indeed, there’s one school, Al-Khair, that is missing from the figures entirely.

So it is interesting to note that MP Barwell claims to have been given privileged access, apparently for party political purposes, to what ought to be public information, statistics denied to the Council Tax-payers of Croydon, many of them parents deciding to which schools to apply for their 10- and 11-year-olds for next September.

Barwell, Gove’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, fails to mention in his newsletter that he also holds an influential position on the governing board of the Whitgift Foundation which runs a clutch of the borough’s private schools, including his own alma mater, the £12,000-a-year fee-paying Trinity, where he is also on the board of governors. One of the features of education provision in this part of south London is the high number of children whose parents opt to use the private schools in Croydon, which Barwell supports so enthusiastically, or the selective schools in neighbouring boroughs.

Barwell’s newsletter continues, “Across the borough as a whole, 68 per cent of pupils achieved 5 A*-C passes including English and maths. That’s up four percentage points in a year at a time when nationally results fell.”

Averages and percentages are tricky things, and easily manipulated. For instance, Barwell omits to mention that Croydon’s 68 per cent “achievement” is still well down on the 84 per cent figure achieved by schools in next door borough Sutton.

So let’s stick to the hard numbers.

Schools tableParents need more information to make sense of why Sutton’s results are so much better, why Sutton’s results in the English Baccalaureate (the measure of how many pupils secure a C grade or better across a core of academic subjects – English, mathematics, history or geography, the sciences and a foreign language) were more than twice as good as Croydon’s in 2012, and what the E-Bacc figures look like for 2013.

Education minister Elizabeth Truss has said, “The E-Bacc is the platform for young people to go on to A levels and high-quality vocational study. It will help them compete with their peers in the world’s best education jurisdictions, where they are expected to study a rigorous academic core.”

Parents and employers, and maybe even Gavin Barwell, understand that.

So why have Croydon’s 2013 E-Bacc results not been made more available, more quickly. Except, apparently, for the local Tory MP?

Given the figures in the table, Croydon parents have continued to vote with their bank accounts, to send their children to schools outside the council’s education system, or even outside the borough altogether. It is estimated that 13 per cent of Croydon’s pupils – 2,957 according to DfE figures from 2012 – attend an independent school. This compares to 3 per cent in Sutton and 9 per cent in Bromley. There is only one borough in London which has more pupils attending fee-paying private schools than Croydon.

Even at a modest estimate, that suggests that Croydon parents are spending an additional £36 million per year to educate their children, over and above their tax contributions. So Croydon parents are on average paying a lot more for education, yet the majority left in the state system run by Croydon’s Conservative-run council are getting a lower average educational outcome.

In a previous report, we emphasised the need for figures on the “value added” education over the pupils’ five-year school careers. There, we noted that in 2012 we had a block of four schools producing broadly similar E-Bacc results:

• Whitgift
• Riddlesdown
• Harris Crystal Palace
• Archbishop Lanfranc

Each of the schools had some kind of weakness:

Lanfranc takes significant numbers of children with special educational needs, and English as a foreign language. Many children come to them from primary schools with low average scores.

Whitgift is one of the richest schools in Britain and selects its pupils by ability. It is strange that their E-Bacc results should be so low; you would have thought that parents paying around £15,000 per year would aspire to having a well-rounded education.

Gavin Barwell: needs to go back to school to work on his ability with numbers

Whitgift Foundation supporter Gavin Barwell: needs to go back to school to work on his ability with numbers

As one of the richest educational charities in the country, one would have expected Whitgift to heed the call of Ofsted chief, Sir Michael Wilshaw, to: “sponsor academies, rather than only offer crumbs off your table”. Instead, Whitgift has been investing ins a boarding house to bring in pupils from wealthy families based overseas.

Harris Crystal Palace is the flagship school of the academy chain and seems to be able to control its intake sufficiently to be able to attract children at 11 with very few learning difficulties or who have English as a foreign language, which are so common among other state schools in Croydon. It is almost as if they hand-pick the pupils that they accept. Yet their E-Bacc results have fallen in 2013 to 40 per cent, compared to a still modest 48 per cent in 2012. Not much in “added value” for parents fortunate enough to have their children “selected” at Harris Crystal Palace, it would seem.

• Riddlesdown School, in its recent press release (schools spending time and resources issuing press releases… that’s Gove’s Britain in 2013), claims to have bounced back  in its results.

Apart from Gavin Barwell, for the majority of Croydon parents there is not a lot of transparency of comparable data.

We are now in October, the vitally important month when parents visit and choose schools for the following year’s intake. Yet parents in Tory-run Croydon still cannot see a complete set of school data for the borough’s schools. The final detailed results will not be available from the Department for Education until  January 2014, by which time parents will have had to make their choices and commit their children to five years at a particular school.

How about the local MP doing something useful, and letting the rest of Croydon’s parents have access to the “school-by-school analysis” he claims to have been given by the council, so that they can make reasonably informed decisions over where they can send their children?

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