Schoolchildren are the weakest link

Michael Keaney Michael.Keaney at
Thu Sep 13 06:36:16 MDT 2001

In light of Jim Craven's recent posts regarding the social impact of
individualistic TV shows, together with the apparent pitfalls of labour
"flexibility",  this article may be of some interest:

'Weakest link' pupils lose place in Catholic school's sixth form 

Head regrets insensitive letter but blames mistake in places estimate

Steven Morris
Thursday September 13, 2001
The Guardian

A respected Catholic school has withdrawn offers of sixth form places to
some pupils four days into the term. 

Some parents and pupils claimed yesterday that St Joan of Arc in
Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, was prepared to ditch its weaker
pupils in order to improve the school's league table standing. 

The school said that it had been faced with more pupils than it had
places due to a higher than estimated exam success rate, but
acknowleged that letters cancelling places - called "weakest link" notes
by the pupils - were insensitive. 

Educationists believe it could be the first time a school has taken such
a step, but is symptomatic of a growing problem. The
improvement in GCSE grades means that more pupils meet sixth form entry
requirements, and puts increased pressure on the most
popular schools and colleges. They in turn find it difficult to pay for,
or recruit, enough staff to meet the demand. 

Set on an 11 acre site, St Joan of Arc was established in what was once
the home of George Eliot by a group of nuns at the turn of
the century. It describes itself as a "caring community in which each
individual feels a sense of belonging". 

Term began on Tuesday last week. On Friday as many as 20 pupils were
told they could not be accommodated, despite having
attained the required GSCEs and having been accepted into the sixth

They were sent away with a standard letter for their parents. 

Lauren McEvoy, 16, told yesterday how she had believed her place was
assured after achieving seven GSCEs. She had even been
given permission by the head to take time off from the school later in
the term to attend a wedding abroad. 

Wearing her new £150 uniform, she had started back at the school, where
she had studied since she was 11, on Tuesday. On
Friday she was the first to be called in to see a senior teacher. 

She said: "They looked at my grades and said: 'There's not a lot for you
to do here.' They said I wasn't academic enough and I would
struggle. They made me feel so small and stupid." 

She was handed a standard typed letter, with her name written in, to
take home. Her mother, Liz, said: "I can't bear that she was
humiliated like this. Four or five months ago we would have had a chance
to look for a place elsewhere. This left us with no time.
They've emotionally damaged Lauren. I believe they've done it because
they are so concerned about climbing the league tables." 

Another student, Claudia Evangelou, left the school when she was told
that it was possible for her to study only two subjects -
though she had 10 GCSEs. 

Her mother, Luli, said: "They not only changed the goalposts but
demolished them. Boys and girls were crying after they were told.
Some have totally lost interest in carrying on. My daughter said: 'Why
should I bother? I'm not good enough' This will have a long
lasting effect on those children." 

The local education authority has been made aware of what has happened.
Privately its officers, and other local headteachers, have
expressed concern. 

St Joan of Arc's head, Tony Sumner, admitted yesterday that the "weakest
link" letter had been "insensitive and inappropriate". He
said the school had been caught out by the large number of pupils who
had achieved the required GCSE results. The school had to
employ staff based on estimates of pupil numbers made in March. 

Mr Sumner said the school was trying to accommodate all pupils by, for
example, working in collaboration with sixth forms at other

He denied it had acted as it did because it was concerned with league
tables. He said: "The school ethos is nonselective." 

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association,
said: "The problem is that the number of students staying on
across the country is increasing. Schools are becoming stretched." 

Full article at:,5500,550886,00.html

Michael Keaney

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