Full marks at school where just one top year pupil has English-speaking parents
It’s a melting pot - but they’re acing the tests. So, asks Richard Garner, how do they do it?
Richard Garner has been Education Editor of The Independent for 12 years and writing about the subject for 34 years. Before becoming a journalist, he worked as a disc jockey in London pubs and clubs and for a hospital radio station. His main hobbies are cricket (watching these days) and theatre. On his days off, he is most likelt to be found at Lord’s or the King’s Head Theatre Club.
Monday 17 December 2012
By any stretch of the imagination it is a major achievement for a primary school serving a deprived inner city area to secure a 100 per cent success rate in maths and English tests for 11-year-olds.
What makes Thomas Jones primary in Kensington and Chelsea’s achievement more remarkable is that it has been done with just one of the 31 pupils who sat the tests coming from an indigenous English speaking background.
The standard of reading amongst its pupils far outweighs that of many schools in the leafier suburbs with more affluent and mostly white English intakes.
The 230-pupil primary school has been judged “outstanding” by education standards watchdog Ofsted in every aspect of education that it delivers.
“We had pupils from Palestine, Ecuador, Somalia, Kosovo, Serbia and Mongolia - a wide range of countries,” said headteacher David Sellens whose school has often topped the tables with a 100 per cent record in maths and English over the past five years - despite two-thirds of the school’s pupils speaking English as a second language and one in three having Arabic as their first language.
More than half of the pupils, too, are living below the poverty line and entitled to free school meals.
Mr Sellens believes the fact that most of the children start in the nursery school at the age of three and get a good early grounding in the basics is the key to laying down the building blocks for their later achievement.
“The personal development of many of the children is at a much lower level than that normally found when children first start (in the nursery),” according to Ofsted.
“By the time that they are ready to move on to Year One (for five-year-olds), they have attained expected levels for this age group and their overall achievement is exceptional.”
“It is a very important starting point for families - particularly families for whom English is not their first language and where they’re living in challenging situations,” said Mr Sellens. An early start in the basics is essential, he argued.
He also admitted it helped that he was “incredibly fussy about a lot of things”. “I’m fussy about (the state of) buildings, pupils’ attire, their demeanour,” he said.
“We insist pupils make eye contact with people and greet visitors with a handshake. We’re also big on homework - pupils can do up to two hours a night. Everything is connected and nothing is taken for granted here.”
Ofsted praises the school’s high aspirations, adding: “An example of this is when the year six pupils (10 and 11-year-olds) don white coats for science lessons and eagerly respond to the school’s expectation that they are preparing for university.
“Immersion in the plays of Shakespeare, poetry readings from Lord Tennyson and high quality literature such as Lord of the Flies, has instilled in pupils a love of literature and has enabled them to reflect with confidence.”
It is not unusual, according to Mr Sellens, to find the children talking about going to university or becoming barristers or doctors when they leave school as they walk around the school.
He also insists that the school’s recruitment policy has helped - most of its teachers are recruited straight from university and stay for a few years before moving on, possibly to jobs outside London where they can more easily afford a home.
“Some of them are very talented, they are enthusiastic and idealistic,” he said. “The teachers who come are attracted to this kind of school. They want to teach in this type of environment - even if sometimes they don’t stop for very long.”
The school is named after Thomas Jones of North Carolina - a passionate crusader against the evils of slavery in the early part of the 19th century. He himself had a fairly rudimentary education but used it to emancipate and teach his own children
“This outstanding school lives up extremely well to the reputation of its namesake who always strove for equal opportunities and who had ther highest aspirations for his own children”, the Ofsted report on the school concludes.
The Department for Education was last night full of praise for its achievements, saying: “The outstanding results achieved by the head, teachers and pupils at thomas Jones shows what can be achieved when high aspirations are set for all pupils, whatever their background.”
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