The shame of school shaming

If you had to pick one, which of these schools would you say was worthier of criticism and public opprobrium?

This one?

A large number of pupils told inspectors that… they often felt unsafe at school. They described ‘dangerous’ behaviour in corridors and during breaks from lessons, including regular fights, and said that abusive language was very common. Pupils explained that, very often, serious disruption during lessons prevented them from learning anything at all. Some said that… they… ‘dreaded’, and in consequence sometimes avoided, coming to school because of these fears. Teachers and other staff told inspectors that they often found it difficult to teach because behaviour was so poor, that they were frequently the target of verbal, and occasionally of physical abuse, and that at times they too felt unsafe.

Or this one?

All of the large number of pupils who spoke with inspectors said that they… feel safe at school. Pupils moved around the school site in an orderly manner and behaved very politely and respectfully to their peers and to adults. They wore their uniform with pride, arrived at lessons promptly, and settled down to learning quickly. In all lessons visited, learning took place in a calm and orderly environment. Relationships between pupils and teachers were positive, and consequently pupils had the confidence to ask and to answer questions. Pupils behaved well, both when interacting with their teachers and when working on their own. As a result, they worked hard, completing tasks in a focused manner. During break periods, pupils socialised with each other amicably.

One could say that it should be the first one – although I’d argue that neither should be shamed in public. Running a school is darned hard to get right. Turning one around is even harder, or we’d have no struggling schools anywhere.

The descriptions above are actually of the same school pre- and post-academisation, and the extracts are taken from this letter by Ofstedfollowing a recent unannounced inspection of Great Yarmouth Charter Academy. (I deleted a few words here and there to remove the past tense from the first extract, to keep the element of surprise!)

Try googling “Great Yarmouth Charter Academy” and you will find endless examples of criticism and school shaming – much of it be people who have never run a school, tried to turn them around, or even taught!

Now try googling “Great Yarmouth High School.” When you get past the top search results – which are all about GYCA! – there is far, far, far less about the school full stop, let alone criticism of what was clearly a school struggling to do the best for its children.

The people who have cared so vociferously about these children recently – where were their protests when bullying was rife, fights a regular occurrence, and exam results poor?

I visited GYCA last week, and was blown away by what I saw. This isn’t to say that it’s a perfect school – it isn’t. It has a long, long way to go before it is everything that the pupils, their families and the staff want it to be.

However, it is nothing like the caricature that people who should know better have made it out to be. And it is clearly a much safer, happier place than it was previously. I was constantly stopped by staff and pupils who wanted to tell me about how things used to be, and how proud they were of the school today. And, not insignificantly, how proud they were of their part in the transformation.

If the people criticising what Barry Smith and his team had been as publicly critical of Great Yarmouth High School, I might have been inclined to give them more time. But they weren’t, so I won’t.

Schools shaming is bad enough. Selective school shaming for ideological or personal reasons is unforgiveable. Shameful, even!

Let’s now leave this school in peace to look after its kids and staff. And maybe try and learn from what the team there have achieved in a short space of time, so other children elsewhere can benefit in the same way.

Mark Lehain

P.S. Kris Boulton did a much job than I ever could of describing how GYCA feels and operates now – he wrote about it here:…