Place2Be is a school-based charity that works mostly in areas of high deprivation to improve the prospects of children likely to struggle at school because of complex social problems.
The charity advertises widely for volunteer counsellors whom it trains and places in schools.
Idly flicking through The Big Issue, I stopped at one of their recent advertisements, a personal account of a volunteer. She described the sense of reward she felt when, after working with a boy for months who did not speak or make eye contact, he finally started holding his head up and playing.
How education is assessed is a highly controversial topic however much government and inspectors want to convince everyone that it is a simple matter of data analysis.
Schools are being judged on a series of figures and if these go the wrong way, the Department for Education will, in all probability, impose Academy status, sack the governing body and the head and replace them with those who are pro-Academies.
I have never yet met a head who doesn’t care passionately about children’s development.
In primary schools, every head wants their children to be literate and numerate. Of course, they understand why for some children this is much more of a challenge than others, but that doesn’t mean they have ‘low expectations’ or are ‘making excuses’ – the negative interpretation of their approach that is often used to justify the ‘punishment’ that follows.
These same judges will usually pay what can only be lip service to the importance of educating the whole child.
They will know the educational effect of a highly damaging family life, but they will find some school somewhere that has exactly the same number of damaged children but a reading rate of 30 per cent higher – as though reading tests were the only way of testing literacy progress and the degree of damage can be measured on a graph.
Because data is god, any attempts to support schools in areas of deprivation, are judged almost exclusively on improvements in data. Yet we know total focus on exams results leads to huge distortion and children can score highly on tests without necessarily understanding what they are doing.
Threats seem to ensure everyone does it the government’s way but it is time to take the qualitative evidence from organisations like Place2be if we really want to change individual children’s lives.
* Sarah Evans, Principal, King Edward VI High School for Girls