With my own passion for traditional education I am concerned that our nation is still struggling with the numbers of pupils who are disinterested in their education by the time they reach the age of sixteen. We compare badly to the growing strength and importance of the education systems in the countries which are going to be our major economic competitors in the decades ahead such as China and India.
I make no apologies for talking about a school which is not in my constituency because I believe it is a great example in showing how our teaching capability can reinvigorate all failing schools in our inner city areas and galvanise our education standards through traditional methods.
The success of Moreton Community School in Wolverhampton came to the notice of the public earlier this year because it finished at the top of the pupil progress table for 2007.
The reasons behind its success were identified as a passion for teaching and learning with a bit of borrowed tradition. It makes for heartening reading especially for us educational traditionalists.
Youngsters at Moreton Community School in Wolverhampton achieved the best contextual value added score in England in their GCSE results last year. The school is in a tough part of Wolverhampton and has made great strides in the capability of its pupils. The school’s score of 1090.5 meant they typically scored one and a half grades better than had been expected from their previous test results, compared with other pupils nationally.
Once again such success can be laid firmly at the direction and enthusiasm from the top – Head Teacher, Tony Leach. He, in recent media reports, has been quick to put the responsibility for the success on to the hard work by pupils and staff.
It seems that Moreton Community School was known locally as “the zoo on the hill” and was under threat of closure by Ofsted when Mr Leach arrived seven years ago. As part of the transformation he got pupils themselves to choose a motto and crest, in itself a heady experiment.
They adopted a highly traditional grammar school style, complete with a Latin motto: labor omnia vincit – hard work conquers all. Seemingly it was the school council that decided on a very traditional Latin motto and traditional grammar-school motif believing that if that is good enough for the grammar school then it is good enough for Moreton.
I can hear cheers from the traditionalists ringing round the country. Moreton continues its development by underpinning the importance of self esteem in everyone connected with the school and especially making the students feel totally valued.
Ofsted has announced that the school is outstanding for raising the aspirations of pupils in a deeply deprived area. The government has raised the threshold of schools’ performance to have at least 30% of their pupils attaining at least five good GCSEs including English and maths. Moreton has just achieved that figure in 2007, up from 25% in the previous year, so the school is only barely out of the threat zone in terms of its core GCSE performance.
As most of you are aware I have made my positive feelings towards grammar schools and academic selection very clear in the past. I am also a great believer that successful education is in the hands of our head teachers and indeed in the eagerness of the students. We cannot rely upon central government or even the best run local authorities to lead our education establishments. Power must increasingly lie with the best head teachers, governing bodies and parents. This must be at the heart of Conservative thinking and policy on school education.
I hope that the parents of the children who attend Moreton Community School have pride in their children and will enthuse all around them with the positive aspects that tradition, aspiration and the importance of self-esteem have brought to their local school but they must not be complacent. There clearly needs more hard work but it shows what can be achieved even in an area where aspiration amongst children and ambition amongst parents has not been possible in the past.
By giving both parents and children the desire to improve and the ambition to succeed we can look forward to regaining our historic strength in education and look to our young people building a strong future for our nation in this global competitive world.