Shiny new facilities don’t = success
Thursday 29th August 2013, 5:00PM BST.
WHILE there’s no doubt that La Mare de Carteret School is in desperate need of redevelopment, it was a bit rich for the Education minister to blame disappointing exam results on the state of the buildings.
Of course every Guernsey child deserves decent educational facilities, but to suggest a strong correlation between modern classrooms and good exam grades is pushing it. I’m sure it’s a factor, but a tiny one compared with what goes on within those classrooms.
It’s interesting that for many years, the best-performing high school in terms of GCSE results has been Les Beaucamps. While it’s true that it now has shiny new facilities, for most of that period of outstanding achievement it was struggling with very sub-standard buildings indeed.
The highest-achieving school of all in Guernsey is Ladies’ College. Those results are partly a product of selection, but they’ve undoubtedly also been helped by high-quality teaching. What didn’t contribute to the school topping the local performance table year after year was their facilities. I don’t know if it’s still the case, but until recently a number of lessons took place in huts.
Naturally, the performance of La Mare is very disappointing for those pupils who didn’t get the grades they were looking for, and for their families. I’m not suggesting high GCSE results are the only thing that matter in life. I couldn’t, as I failed to get the O-level equivalent of five A*-C including maths and English. But there’s no doubt these key exams do determine what future educational paths are open to children, so it’s vital La Mare is turned around. I’m hopeful that process has already started.
It’s easy to slip into the idea that there’s some inherent problem with this school, which leads to it under-performing. Not true. A glance at the graph in the Mulkerrin Report showing the performance of local schools at GCSE over time reveals that more than 10 years ago, under the headship of Jenny Tasker, it was doing very well indeed. More recently, it went into a slow decline until it hit its nadir two years ago with those shocking results which led to the board of the Education Department being changed.
Much of the blame was put on the newish head teacher at the time, but that’s rather unfair because in fact the graph shows the rot had set in years before he took over.
I don’t know what happened to the head teacher during most of that extended period of decline, but the last I heard, he was a highly paid officer at the Education Department.
Deputy Robert Sillars’ other contention is that the redevelopment of La Mare shouldn’t be delayed by a couple of years until the States has debated his department’s raft of proposals on the future of primary, secondary and post-16 education. He claims that nothing that could come out of those debates will impact on the proposed rebuild. What arrogance. His proposals might not affect the project – we don’t know, we haven’t seen them yet – but what the States decides might be very different.
Let’s consider a couple of the many decisions to be taken very soon which could conceivably change what is required on the site.
1. Depending on what the States decide to do about rationalising primary education, there may or may not be a need for a new primary school on the site.
2. If the States decide in favour of comprehensive education but against centralising post-16 provision, then the new school may need sixth form facilities.
There are many more ways in which this project could be altered by the big decisions on the future of education that our government is due to take over the coming year or so.
I understand the burning desire to replace La Mare. In some ways, it should have happened before St Sampson’s. But this approach just isn’t professional. If the management of a commercial business asked its board to sanction massive capital expenditure a year or so before they knew exactly how those facilities would be used, they’d be left in no doubt how daft that request was. They’d be told such reckless use of limited capital could bring the company down. They’d be sent away to bring forward the operational plan first and then the capital plan to support it. But this is only government and it’s only taxpayers’ money, so I suppose it will get nodded through.