Why in the British school system a good school might be better than an outstanding school

This blog on the British school system might be controversial but I speak from personal experience. I have experimented first hand that an outstanding school is often (not always) more interested in academic results at the expense of its students’ wellbeing, not just mental health in broad terms but also physical health. My son went to an outstanding secondary school last year that was all good on paper but did not nurture social skills in the slightest. I felt that it was more like a Victorian age institution that preferred punishment to positive reinforcement, where children are disciplined with detention for little infractions (i.e. a non-perfect tie knot) all the time and never rewarded for good behaviour and results.

He was brilliant academically but suffered from lack of kindness and sport (which was neglected because considered a waste of time). So I moved him to a good school which is very caring and where positive reinforcement makes the students happy, healthy and self-motivated. The most important thing for me as a parent is the wellbeing of my child. Seeing him happy to go to school every morning and coming back full of positive stories and enthusiasm at the end of the day is the only thing that matters. 

When I hear parents talking about how good the school is doing in terms of Ofsted results and how it is aiming to get outstanding status doesn’t really bother me because I know perfectly well that an outstanding school has to deliver excellent results and in order to do that it has to be ruthless and indiscriminate towards more sensitive children who might slow down the fast train. There is often no space for kindness and inclusivity in an outstanding school. It’s the system that doesn’t allow it. A school that accepts absences for illness or other justifiable circumstances cannot become outstanding but yet might be excellent in its own way for being understanding towards families.

The British school system penalises imperfect kids and families and rewards those who have 100% attendance. This means that kids with medical conditions who are forced to miss school, are penalised. This also encourages parents to send their kids in when they’re ill. It is cruel for teachers or head teachers to make children feel bad for being poorly. 

The school system I’ve grown up with in Italy in an another era expected students to attend when they were not sick or had doctor appointments. Similarly in the workplace you cannot go to work when you have the flu to avoid spreading the germs to colleagues. 

Life is not just about academic results. There should be a reward for kindness and social skills too because these are the hardest things to achieve in life especially in our society and in a metropole like London where people can feel isolated and only make ‘friends’ on social media. 

These days children know how to use computers almost as soon as they are born and pick up knowledge quicker than during the Seventies and Eighties when there were less stimulus and gadgets to support learning. But they are often lonely because they lack social skills and hide behind social media. During my childhood in the Seventies and Eighties I remember being outdoor a lot with friends or other kids from the neighbourhood. On the street I learnt how to get on with my peers and how to sort differences among ourselves without always relying on parents or adults. Kids now always look at tiger mums or helicopter parents to intervene whether they are at school or in the playground. 

Another measurement of how good a school really is, is its transparency and the communication between parents and teachers. If you can express your concerns and get answered quickly and with clarity, that is a sign of a great school. Often this is a feature of a community school as opposed to a more impersonal urban city school. If you want to check the health of a school, attend a PTA meeting and see how the parents are. If the local communities are involved, the school will thrive and deliver results (even without the ‘outstanding’ label). 

I won’t regret my choice of swapping an outstanding school with a good school! In this wrongful school system for me a good school is better than an outstanding school! I know it’s controversial but again this is personal and I got this out of my system.

My boy is finally happy at school!

What do you think about the School system in Britain? 


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