Where is the best school in the world?
I used to work at the best school in the world, and although not many people will have heard of Alexandra Park School – it’s a bit like Michaela Free School, but without all the social-media fuss and political gravy train – despite rapid government reform, this new start-up community comprehensive has been thriving and leading excellence in the classroom and in the community for over 15 years.
Founded by local demand, Headteacher Mrs. Rossyln Hudson (1998 – 2007) gave me the happiest days of my school career to date (2000 – 2007). She was canny, scrupulous and unrelenting in her vision for ‘success for all’. Opened in September 1999, I was interviewed and appointed by Tom Sherrington (deputy headteacher at the time) and joined the school 6 months later as head of design technology; the 13th member of teaching staff and the last middle leader appointment.
In the inaugural five years, every decision we made was the first for the students and for the school. Sixteen years later, I am proud to see many of our decisions still standing the test of time and its second headteacher, Mike McKenzie (in his tenth year) leading the way.
The school is now well above average in size with the proportion of students known to be eligible for free school meals above average. The large majority of the students are from a wide range of minority ethnic backgrounds with one-third of the students speaking English as an additional language. Students identified with special educational needs and/or disabilities is well above average and students with SEN statements also well above average. The school has recently been awarded International School and Teaching Schools status and is one of only 30 National Space Schools.
The international Pisa education rankings, published earlier this month, showed UK 15-year-olds were well behind the leaders when it came to maths, science and reading – but a handful of UK schools bucked the trend. According to Pisa data, Alexandra Park pupils – who took the tests early last year – scored an average of 564 points.
Last year students at Alexandra Park School were randomly selected to take this test as part of the English cohort. The students received no additional coaching. Indeed, the school played down the importance of these tests as the last thing a year 11 needs during their mocks is more stress. They sat the 3 hours of tests beginning at 7.00am on a cold December morning in the knowledge they could not even expect to receive results.
Image: Alexandra Park School.
Current headteacher Mr. Mike McKenzie says the school’s approach is to “employ high-quality staff and give them the space to do their job. They do it very well … we have the full range of students here – some very privileged, some with many different needs.”
Alexandra Park, previously been recognised as being world class, has outstanding performance for its students. The school states its reservations about the value of PISA tests, but is pleased for the students involved to know that their achievements compare so favourably with students across the globe. It turns out that their students did exceptionally well, far-exceeding outcomes in any of the seventy-five countries.
What can be concluded from PISA tests? Can we really determine that Alexandra Park is the best school in the world? I’d like to hope so, but I’m not foolish to think that a single test can determine how clever our kids are from any particular school or a country. It’s just a shame our government ministers do. Forget government reform, policies and fads of gimmicks. Credit must go to the brilliant leadership of the school and the fantastic teaching that I know takes place there every day. That’s what makes the difference …
PISA is conducted every three years and is centred around a direct assessment of pupils’ science, mathematics and reading abilities. Each year one of these subjects is covered in more detail – science in 2015 – and pupils are also assessed in an innovative domain – collaborative problem solving1 in 2015. In 2015 PISA was administered in the majority of countries as a computer-based assessment (CBA) for the first time. Over 70 countries participated in PISA 2015, including all members of the OECD and all four countries within the United Kingdom. In England, PISA 2015 was conducted in November to December 2015, with a sample of 5,194 pupils in England from across 206 schools. The vast majority of England’s participating pupils were born between September 1999 and August 2000, meaning they came to the end of primary school during 2010, and were the last cohort to take the GCSE examinations before they are reformed.