Can we celebrate success without rewriting history?

The headteacher of the Newham-based 16-18 free school; London Academy of Excellence (LAE) in commenting on their A-level results to the Guardian last Thursday was quoted as saying:

“In Newham, there were hundreds and thousands of young people who wanted to do traditional A-levels. In the past they couldn’t do them because there was no one to provide them. Either they were having to go to school in the surrounding boroughs or – if they couldn’t afford to do that – they were having to take places at colleges here that didn’t provide biology, maths and history. They were having to do BTecs, GNVQs and that type of thing.”

This is a complete untruth. Newham Sixth Form College (NewVIc) has been offering a very wide range of A-levels (all those available at LAE and many more) for over 20 years. The many thousands of students who have taken A-level subjects at NewVIc over the last 20 years and progressed to competitive degree courses in selective universities will be surprised to hear that they’ve been airbrushed out of the history of education in Newham.

Just for the record, this summer 101 NewVIc students took A-level Maths, 79 took A-level Biology and 48 took A-level History.

NewVIc’s university progression rates are very high: 767 students progressed overall in 2013, 99% of all A level applicants to HE progressed and we regularly get students into Russell group institutions (60 in 2013, possibly more this year) including Oxbridge (2 this year).

NewVIc is comprehensive so our overall scores will not be as high as those of more selective providers but our A-level results will certainly bear a like-for-like comparison.

We also have a wide and comprehensive vocational offer which is extremely successful and attracts learners in its own right. We recruit with integrity and have never pushed applicants towards vocational courses if they want to do A-levels and meet the entry requirements, why on earth would we?

Sadly, this is not the first outing for this “there was nothing here before we came along” narrative. It’s been trotted out before and reverberates around the media and the Westminster village whenever LAE is discussed.

For example: “Newham where there are strikingly few academic sixth form courses available” (Attain magazine, October 2011) “Where in Newham can you get that unabashed approach to academic work, leading to a top university?” (Tony Little, Sunday Times 29/04/2012) “…talented children, many of whom had to go outside Newham to study for A-levels.” (Independent 15/07/2013)

Free school founders may find this narrative convenient. The problem is it isn’t true.

It’s quite natural for institutions to promote the successes of their students but we need to ensure that the truth does not become the victim when we celebrate our students’ achievements. We need to agree not to perpetrate myths and untruths about other providers just because they suit our case. We all need to tell our own story but this should not involve rewriting history.

I have blogged here and here about previous claims made and my tale of two boroughs also provides a little more context. I will blog separately about what we know of the respective performance of comprehensive and selective sixth forms and the importance of comparing like with like.

About Eddie Playfair

I am a Senior Policy Manager at the Association of Colleges (AoC) having previously been a college principal for 16 years and a teacher before that. I live in East London and I blog in a personal capacity about education and culture. I also tweet at @eddieplayfair
This entry was posted in Education, Education policy, NewVIc and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Can we celebrate success without rewriting history?

  1. Mark Chester says:

    I’m so pleased that you responded to this untruth and look forward to your follow-up blog on comparing like with like!


  2. Pingback: Selective school head comes under fire from college principal for ‘complete untruth’ over A-level claims | FE Week

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