If there was an international league table for putting ourselves down, for saying how rubbish we are, then the UK would be near the top. It’s something which - until the Olympics - we seemed especially good at.
Take schools, for example. Reading the national newspapers, watching the news, and listening to people in high places, you’d think that England’s state schools were all dreadful.
But the reality is that whilst there are some unacceptably bad schools, most surveys of parents show just how much parents appreciate their neighbourhood school. They think it does a good job. And our schools perform far better than some countries that spend more money on each child, such as the USA.
Last week at our school we hosted 33 students and teachers from Shanghai at our school. Tomorrow, our own students will head to China. It’s the sixth year of an ambitious partnership programme.
It’s no coincidence that we are linked with Shanghai – its schools are the top performing in the world. We saw this ourselves last year when we sat in on lessons there.
Children aged 12 were working on Maths problems which our A-level students had only just been introduced to.
The pace of learning and the ambition for achievement there were remarkable. Yet our partner school keeps coming back to us, year in, year out, because there are things we do in our schools that they can only dream of.
They are fascinated by our commitment to student leadership – the way we prepare the next generation of young people to take their place in society by building a strong sense of character and a mission to improve the world.
The best schools do this through a rich programme of extra-curricular work – such as sport, music, and the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. It’s something alien to many schools in Shanghai, which are often exam factories. They are fascinated too by the creativity our teachers show in planning and teaching lessons, and the creativity we develop in students.
Our Shanghai visitors are keen also to learn more about school leadership in England – rated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Develeopment as best in the world. They are amazed that, as head of a large school, I am trusted by the Government and governors with a budget well over £6 million and can make many decisions without having to ask permission. In China it is very different.
So in this year of the GCSE English fiasco, in which more than 50,000 students in England have been given the wrong grade (2000 of them in Suffolk) and with headlines always seeming to be saying that England’s schools are failing, it may be worth looking beyond the surface.
Of course we still have much to do to make all of our schools world class. But there’s also a lot that we’re doing right, which are viewed in awe from overseas.
How refreshing if just occasionally our political masters would notice, too.
Geoff Barton joins the Bury Free Press today as our newest columnist.
Next week, the British Trust for Ornithology returns when Graham Appleton turns the spotlight on the jay.