Last October an urban primary school admitted a girl of Pakistani heritage into year 6. She had previously lived for four years in Poland, where she had learnt the language. She has now picked up English, and is doing well academically and socially. However, she struggles with full attendance as her journey to school relies on two bus routes. In so doing she passes three other schools that refused to admit her, because they were ‘full’. Teachers told me that this has happened before in their district. Their explanation is that some schools don’t want newly arrived migrants in year 6 because of the tests!
Stories like this illustrate the complex and sometimes perverse ways in which national policies impact on what happens in our schools. In particular, they point to how the pressures to raise standards through the publication of test scores and inspections can distract teachers from their instinct to do the best for all of their children.