Education – what is it for? The perils of a target/tick box culture – children as “collateral damage”

“An independent inquiry into a top grammar school, which was revealed by a Guardian investigation to be forcing out pupils who were unlikely to get top grades at A-level, has delivered a damning report accusing the school of illegally treating its students as “collateral damage” in the pursuit of its own interests.

The 150-page report into events last summer at St Olave’s, a selective boys school in Orpington, south-east London, called for a root and branch makeover at the school after a council investigation exposed multiple cases of maladministration and scenes of distressed pupils contemplating suicide after being pushed out of the school midway through the sixth form.

One member of staff told the inquiry that a student was so fearful of telling his parents that he could not continue at St Olave’s “that he might as well kill himself” while another on the phone to his parents said “they just want to be rid of me, they just want me gone”.

Other pupils in extremely vulnerable situations were told no exceptions could be made to the strict academic requirement of three Bs to progress into the final year of sixth form.

In one case a student who scored all As and A*s at GCSEs and was heading for medical school was refused any leniency despite being diagnosed with depression triggered by a family suicide.

The report, commissioned by Bromley council, challenged the pursuit of academic excellence at all costs. “A school has the responsibility to do its best by all of the pupils,” the report said, adding that by excluding students, the school had put the institution above the pupils.

“Parents of the pupils affected were right to say their children were being treated as collateral damage. It should not have happened.” …..

The investigation also criticised the school’s leadership for the claims of financial “doom and gloom” to justify cutting staff, cancelling courses and putting off urgent repairs. In fact, the school recorded annual surpluses and built up £2m in unrestricted funds in its bank accounts.

Parents were urged to donate £50 a month to the school by direct debit. The school also raised £35,000 a year in selling mock entrance tests to the families of applicants to the grammar school, and retained hardship funds for disadvantaged pupils, worth more than £50,000 that went unspent.”