Day 50 – An Upper School Teacher Speaks

SMS received this email a few days ago and thought it demonstrated why upper schools are excellent within the 3-tier system too – constructive and positive comments are welcomed – click on the comment link below the story and follow the instructions – your email will be invisible to everyone and you can choose a pseudonym if you wish.

We always check with the authors of emails to us if they wish to be “blogged” and anonymity is preserved as far as possible – so if you would like to contribute, then please email your 200-300 word piece to A bottle of wine for the best blog !


I have just read your site and its blogs and wonder exactly how altruistic you really are? Should we not be fighting to keep the three tier system alive – not just the middle schools? Your site causes the very division you aim to correct. Not only is there open setting of middle school professionals against colleagues in lower and upper schools but also you allow various myths about upper schools to perpetuate. We are not huge soulless places! Many students and parents also see Upper schools as advantageous, reinvigorating pupils and giving them a fresh start. The children are not all dating (horror!) and snogging/ truanting/ dossing! Students increasingly come to us from middle school with these issues (a problem often put on the back burner during transition!) – it’s 21st century life and I feel like some are almost hankering after ye olden dayes. There is a huge diet of unusual A Levels and vocational subjects on offer at Upper Schools, in contrast to many 11 – 18 schools.

In seeking to preserve the middle schools , you are doing down the other ends of the three tier system – this is crazy! Focus , too, on the fact that several upper schools are rated outstanding for their pastoral care and guidance and are proper focuses of the academic work in the upper ends of education. There are people who want to save upper schools, too!!! yes, there is work to be done on effective liaison between schools (despite what heads may tell you…) and recruitment of specialist teachers for year 8 and 7 in some middle schools – but, on the whole, standards are rising in the upper and middle schools – and have always been high in lower schools. Stop bleating on about the Harpur Trust. They’re not going away – and the more you make us appear to be in a mess, the more affluent, middle class parents will compromise Bedford’s efforts by putting their children in BMS, BHS etc etc.


A disgruntled upper school teacher


4 Responses to Day 50 – An Upper School Teacher Speaks

  1. KDev says:

    The majority of stable Upper or Secondary schools are serving their pupils very well. The problem is the change over.
    Evidence NOT opinion.
    Wiltshire has had just about every form of school structure known, in Salisbury half of the city was single sex Grammar and Secondary Modern, the other less historic and more challenged half was 3-Tier. Westwood St Thomas was a large comprehensive Upper School with problems. Only 27% with 5 GCSE A* to C in 1999 but it was steadily improving – then Wiltshire County Council decided to get rid of its small number of Middle Schools. Westwood was closed and replaced with Salisbury High comprehensive secondary school in 2005.
    What happened to the Westwood feeder Middle Schools in their last 3 years – no music teachers, no modern language teachers, no ICT specialists and only half of the specialist sports staff they should have had. There were lots of temporary supply teachers, the remaining permanent staff were demoralised and just could not run all of the clubs and activities the schools had previously provided.
    Westwood achieved 46% with 5 GCSE A* to C in its last year 2005. In 2006 Salisbury High achieved 41% with 5 GCSE A* to C, in 2006 44%, in 2008 43%. The secondary school even after 3 years had not managed to produce the same attainment as Westwood had in its last year and, worse, its rate of improvement is negligible. If Westwood had not been totally disrupted by the change to 2-Tier it may have been producing GCSE results 10% better than Salisbury High in 2008.
    This is what faces the majority of the Borough’s children if the change to 2-Tier is forced through.

  2. Alex Monaghan says:

    I suppose the main reason this campaign is concentrating on saving Middle Schools is that they are the ones which are under threat! No Upper Schools are facing closure, and only one Middle School will be saved if the Borough goes 2-tier. Seems pretty obvious to me.

    However, it is great to know that at least one Upper School head is NOT in favour of 2-tier. It would help even more if this person would speak out in public. Perhaps you are not alone. The Borough is keen to say that most Upper School heads support the change – maybe this is another half-truth or skewed statistic. Who else in Upper Schools is against the change? There are many parents who feel that Upper Schools are keen to expand, to grow their empires and take the extra investment and salaries which will come to a bigger school: if this is not the case, let’s hear it from them.

    The Borough certainly seems reluctant to share the BSF funding between Upper and Middle Schools: this makes no sense to me, as investing in both tiers would bring benefits to a larger number of pupils! I know BSF is intended for 11-18 pupils, but if you provide an all-weather pitch or a robotics lab for Years 7 & 8 at a Middle School, the children in Years 5 & 6 are likely to derive some incidental benefit too. This is not spreading the investment too thinly – it’s making the money go further!

    Middle Schools are literally at the heart of the 3-tier system: without them there CANNOT be a 3-tier system, and with them there MUST be a 3-tier (or more) system. I think SMS has the right focus. Of course, we are not against Lower and Upper Schools – they go with the Middle Schools to make a 3-tier system. Nor are we denying the benefits of Lower Schools stopping at age 9 and Upper Schools starting at age 13: developmentally this seems a very good approach, and has all the advantages pointed out by today’s blogger.

    Why, then, are Upper Schools and Lower Schools not fighting to keep the 3-tier system? I am not aware of a single pro-3-tier meeting organised by these schools. The only Upper School head I have heard speak in favour of the 3-tier system came from Central Beds, where there is no proposal to change.

    I believe that Lower School heads and Upper School heads SHOULD be resisting the change, As many people have pointed out, the day when the Middle Schools close will be disastrous for existing Upper Schools: they will receive 3 year groups at once, almost doubling their pupil number in some cases, and will be struggling to teach a new 11-13 curriculum at the same time as having a new 16-19 curriculum. The new pupils may well be drowned in chaos, but the whole school could be swamped too. That seems to be what has happened in Northamptonshire.

    I am a governor of a small Lower School, and I know that the school feels that changing to Primary is the best chance of keeping the school alive: with more pupils, it will be less easy to close small village schools. However, there are many Lower Schools which are going to struggle – perhaps unsuccessfully – to accommodate seven or eight year-groups: their sites just aren’t big enough. I personally believe that some of these will be closed soon after a change to Primary: the Borough has said that they have not investigated how each Lower School will be converted, and they have given no guarantees that Lower Schools are safe beyond the transition phase, so if I were a Lower School head I would be extremely worried.

    As for altruism, most of the people I have seen speaking or writing in favour of change are employed by the Borough, whereas most of the people speaking against change are parents of children whose education could be wrecked by the Borough’s proposal. Which are the altruists?

    This is NOT a philosophical debate. It’s NOT about which system is better: it’s about whether massive disruptive change is justified. The effect of change on our children will be catastrophic in many cases: the benefits of change are unclear and uncertain. If Upper School heads and Lower School heads care about the children who will be in their schools for the next ten or fifteen years, they should think very carefully before they support this change.

  3. Mike Nicholson says:

    Yes you’re right. Perhaps more focus should be put on preserving lower and upper schools as well as middle. Perhaps its just that those of us involved in middle schools feel more vulnerable.

    I have to say that the views presented by SMS at the meeting I attended (at Alban) were very much positive towards Upper Schools, specifically with regard to the improvements demonstrated by Mark Rutherford and Sandy Upper WITHOUT all this funding (imagine what they could do WITH the funding!).

    On a different note, it would have been nice if the recent metting with middle school staff could have shown the same positivity towards middle school staff instead of the blatant rudeness displayed by Brian Glover (I think that’s who it was – it’d have been nice if whever it was had given those who don’t know him the courtesy of introducing himself) towards those who voiced concerns.

  4. Susan Brooks says:

    I visited a local Upper School on friday and I was shocked how desperately it needed of some TLC. There’s excellent teaching but the premises were shabby, grey and dark. Rather than spending all this money and effort on a change which may or not deliver the promised improvements, wouldn’t it be better to give ALL our schools a much needed injection of funds for buildings and refurbishment? THAT would definitely improve moral, both for pupils and staff and parents and my experience that allways improves results.

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