Since the end of the summer term Townley has been host to a BBC film crew and as we draw close to the end of their filming there is much to reflect upon. Parents, students and visitors will have been aware either via the numerous notices or the ever-present camera that appears from nowhere. On the whole though it has not been as disruptive as one might imagine and I have to thank the BBC team for that, particularly Mark and Danielle who have been stationed here while the other crews filmed at Erith School and Uplands Primary.
The purpose of the filming is to produce a three part documentary on education with a particular focus on selective and non-selective schools to be shown on BBC2. As yet we do not know when this will be shown since such decisions rest with a mysterious group of people called “The Schedulers”. Still, well before that time, I have been forced to reflect on schools’ engagement with the media or lack of. I have lost count of the number of colleagues who have reacted with horror at the thought of allowing a TV crew into school; some have spoken with a degree of pride about how they have firmly rejected any such approaches.
I confess it has made me doubt the decision more than once. Surely my colleagues, many experienced Headteachers, must have a point? To be so certain of the disaster that awaits they must “know” something. Perhaps what they know is their own school, their view of their job, their perspective and that’s the nub of the issue. Each Headteacher leads according to their vision and makes decisions based upon that. If your vision is to maintain the status quo then any change must be a threat. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are many fine Headteachers who are opposed to allowing film crews in their school but who also bring about real change for their students; but maybe only their students.
When I am asked why we agreed to this my reply is quite simple; we want to change the world. By giving our students the knowledge, skills, understanding and values necessary we prepare them to change the world around them and create a better, fairer society. As a school we cannot accomplish this by “pulling up the drawbridge” and hiding behind our walls. What role model do we provide to these young people if we are afraid to share, if we do not have the courage of our convictions? Much of Townley’s success has been built on innovation, taking risks and being ahead of the curve. It’s what we expect of our students therefore at the very least we must be able to lead in this fashion.
One of the driving forces for the decision to invite the BBC in was the misinformation and prejudice surrounding grammar schools. In the recent grammar debate many schools and their pupils were vilified by adults who frankly should know better. Being labelled “privileged” and “elite” by people who did not know them upset many, myself included; so called evidence and data was used indiscriminately to justify firmly held prejudices. Even the former Head of Ofsted described grammars as full of “white middle class” children. Some may well be, as are a number of supposedly comprehensive schools but to say so without even visiting them, was outrageous.
But then if we do not show what we are really like can we blame the ill informed for their blinkered opinions? To my knowledge the only TV programme about grammars was focused on those that attended in the 1950’s. It is not surprising therefore that some think nothing has changed. We therefore decided to let the public make up their own minds. Undoubtedly when the programme finally airs it will reinforce some opinions on either side of the debate but maybe, it will also cause some to think again and maybe, just maybe, we may begin a real dialogue about education and start to change the world.
Townley Grammar School