Tonight, Croydon Council's Cabinet agreed plans to radically improve standards in our secondary schools.
For a long time now, around one in three children leaving Croydon primary schools - including many of the brightest pupils - have transferred to secondary schools in Bromley, Surrey and Sutton or to the private sector rather than going to a Croydon secondary school.
The result is low levels of attainment in many of our schools (there are several schools where less than three in ten pupils achieved 5 A* to C passes at GCSE including Maths and English last year) and schools unable to fill their places with children from their local area and therefore having to take pupils from much further afield (in some cases, from inner London boroughs). As a result, thousands of children have to travel signficant distances to school each day, leading to congestion on our roads and overcrowding on public transport.
The previous Labour administration, obsessed with trying to get re-elected and therefore afraid to do anything that might upset anybody, did nothing to tackle this problem.
Now, under Conservative control, the Council is finally taking the tough decisions necessary to raise standards. It wants to ensure that every school in the borough is a good school so that parents have the confidence to send their child to their local school.
And it’s not just the pupils of tomorrow who stand to benefit from these proposals. If we equip our children with the skills today’s employers require and have schools that their employees will be happy to send their children to then we will find it much easier to attract new businesses to locate in Croydon, bringing investment and well-paid jobs with them.
You can see the detailed proposals - and have your say on them - here but in summary the plan is to:
- expand popular schools;
- close under-performing schools and replace them with new academies (state schools that benefit from the involvement of a sponsor and have a proven record across the country in raising standards);
- encourage good schools to work with other schools to help them drive up standards;
- establish 6th forms in every school. Most parents don’t want their children to have to change school at 16 and there is strong evidence that the presence of older children in secondary schools helps to improve behaviour;
- insist on high standards of discipline - the bad behaviour of a small minority should not be allowed to disrupt the education of the vast majority who want to learn;
- improve provision for gifted and talented children and those with special educational needs; and
- rebuild or renovate schools so that they provide the best possible environment for teaching and learning. The Council will be investing £350 million over the next few years, the biggest investment our schools have ever seen.
The reaction of Labour councillors last night was really disappointing. They seem to believe that standards in all our schools are fine, that it doesn't matter if one in three Croydon parents doesn't have confidence in our secondary schools and called for a further delay.
We do have some very good schools in Croydon and many dedicated, hard-working teachers but for too long too many children have not been getting the education they deserve. If we want to close the gap between the haves and have-nots in our society we need to do something about it.