At the chalkface: The lost ones

Written by: Ian Whitwham | Published:

I’m puzzled by this. I feel guilty, depressed. Were teachers like us really such rubbish? Many have now been sacked or are “disappeared” by murderously efficient super heads.

Summer term begins. One last push for our GCSE students, the culmination of five year’s hard labour in the exam factory.

They’ve hunkered down over Easter holidays to put the final bloom on The Knowledge – with revision classes, intensive focus groups, Saturday hothousing, twilight spoon-feeding – and some have tattooed their more intimate limbs with dates, theorems, logarithms and key quotes.

Whizzo results are guaranteed. Students will be knee-deep in glittering grades, A*s will fall like blossom. They won’t get much lower than a B.

What’s going on? Why did my old teaching chums and I do less well? Some of my pupils used to get Ds, Es, unclassifieds and fails.

Do this generation have bigger brains? Are Teach First so gifted? It would seem so.

But we entered all our students – apart from wolf children, the more florid schizophrenics and acknowledged assassins. They may have been expelled, suspended or incarcerated in off-site units, but they always surfaced to bugger up their exams. We were poor but honest, more the QPR of the league tables.

I’m puzzled by this. I feel guilty, depressed. Were teachers like us really such rubbish? Many have now been sacked or are “disappeared” by murderously efficient super heads.

I smell a rat. And so does the research organisation Education Datalab. Their recent report has discovered across the country a significant drop in numbers between the original 7th year cohort and those 11th years doing GCSEs. The missing tend to be the lower achievers, the poor and troubled.

This time it’s the pupils who’ve been “disappeared”. In some schools this drop can approach a third: 20,000 pupils are “lost” to state education per year.

Where have they gone? Thin air? Some academic Bermuda Triangle for the Unexamined. Have they been expelled, cleansed?

Where are these “lost children”? Where do they go? PRUs or other special units have been mostly shut down. Or are they on the perilous streets? Why doesn’t Ofsted pick them up? They risk harm, exploitation, radicalisation and eventual prison. It’s called “off-rolling” in the trade. “Gaming the system” or cheating, fixing the stats, thereby zooming duplicitously up those league tables. Is this legal? How do some heads and local authorities sleep at night?

Maybe we weren’t so bad after all. At least we were properly comprehensive. Why is this not headline news? I smell more rats.

  • Ian Whitwham is a former inner city London teacher.


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