Joe Cotton, a typical 15yo GCSE student?

One of the stories of the day sections of the media are lapping up is that of a 15-year-old schoolboy who delivered a speech at the National Union of Teachers conference in Harrogate.  As usual the media fails its readers once again.

Joe Cotton from Calder High School in Yorkshire was given a standing ovation after his speech on the axing of the education maintenance allowance (EMA). The teenager urged the NUT to do all they could to keep education “affordable and accessible”, according to the BBC.

Good luck to the lad.  I don’t agree with his views about the EMA but I don’t take issue with him being motivated enough to stand up in front of 1000 delegates and speak his mind.  Someone I do take issue with however is the NUT general secretary, Christine Blower. After Cotton had finished speaking she took to the stage to congratulate him saying:

“Now that’s what comprehensive education can do.”


Let’s examine the facts shall we?  Fact one is that Joe Cotton is not an average 15 year old run of the mill GCSE student.  Joe was was invited by a member of the NUT executive to speak at the conference after he was heard speaking at a rally in Halifax.  He is clearly a self motivated high achiever who also has the good fortune to attend a school rated as ‘good’ by Ofsted and described thus in its last inspection report:

Many parents of children at comprehensive schools would love to see that kind of description for the school their youngsters attend. It is not par for the course.

Then there is young Joe Cotton himself.  Regardless of his views this lad is a stand out kid.  Many youngsters spend their free time attached to a keyboard in their bedroom or wandering around the streets looking for some kind of stimulation, but not Joe.  Unlike many kids he likes to get involved in available activities and strives to succeed – quite possibly due to positive parental influence, encouragement and support. Evidence?  Read on…

There is this local news story from 2009 where Joe was a star turn in a mock trial contest.  In fact he was named the best prosecution lawyer, denoting an ability to articulate his thoughts and express himself clearly and effectively. But then this should not be so surprising when you understand that Joe is heavily involved in amateur dramatics and theatre with entities such as the Calderdale Theatre School.

Indeed an acting career could even be on the cards as this story about the drama ‘Dreaming of Foxes’ in which Joe starred suggests.  Another story about the same drama on the Calder High website (scroll down to Dreaming of Foxes) backs this up and is the immediately followed by a reference to Calder High School’s reputation for excellence in the performing arts as Year 12 drama students performed their exam piece, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in front of an external judge.

Not content with mock trials and acting, Joe also finds time to be involved with a youth run organisation which covers a range of issues from current affairs to opinions to music, called The Painter’s Chronicle.  One wonders how he finds time for all his homework and coursework with his GCSEs coming up.  But then, Joe might not need to worry about passing his exams as he has also demonstrated his entrepreneurial talent by winning Calderdale’s own version of The Apprentice –  the photo above shows him during the competition.

Now, back to Christine Blower’s little piece of propaganda. Given all the evidence above, just how likely is it that a comprehensive education is the reason for the talented and intelligent Joe’s achievements? Perhaps Mrs Blower could put her claim to the test and demonstrate what a comprehensive education can do by going to the nearby Park Lane school in Calderdale, where the comprehensive experience is more in keeping with that suffered by many youngsters around the country.

Perhaps Mrs Blower could invite one of Park Lane’s pupils to address the next conference and see if the outcome is anywhere near as good as having the exceptional Joe Cotton at the podium. Somehow I think that particular comprehensive’s performance would make such an invitation unlikely.

Of course if you were relying on the media to provide anything like this level of background detail about this young man and put his appearance at the NUT conference into context, you would be waiting a long time.

8 Responses to “Joe Cotton, a typical 15yo GCSE student?”

  1. 1 Headley_Grange 25/04/2011 at 8:33 pm

    This is a bit of a non-story isn’t it. The NUT guy did not mislead when he said “Now that’s what comprehensive education can do.” because Joe is a product of a comprehensive-school education. I am guessing that he never claimed that Joe is a typical student, otherwise you would probably have mentioned it.

    What point are you trying to make – that our comprehensive schools are variable in quality and produce pupils of different abilities? Where’s the story?

  2. 2 Uncle Badger 25/04/2011 at 10:00 pm

    Excellent work, Holmes!

    Of course, when another young man got up on his hind legs and wowed an audience with his political rhetoric, the BBC used it as a stick to beat him with for decades and its cheap gag merchants still do to this day.

  3. 3 Autonomous Mind 25/04/2011 at 10:33 pm

    Headley, the point I am making is that Joe Cotton is not a typical 15yo product of a comprehensive school education, which Christine Blowers tried to suggest he was. This is not a story, it is an illustration of a ridiculous piece of unjustified and self congratulatory spin by the activist element of the teaching profession which has undermined education in this country.

  4. 4 Mr Mystery 26/04/2011 at 12:43 am

    I was a pupil at Calder High School and have worked in special measure schools in Halifax. I think if anything Joe needs praising for his excellent efforts expressing his concern and opinion. Most of us know the EMA system was flawed since day one. An income assessed system to bribe kids into school. There is no reason why any 6th former can’t go out and work like the rest of us did before EMA and find the balance between study and school.
    Calder High isn’t an amazing school anymore, yes on paper it has a nicer description than park lane but I guarantee you there would be several kids willing to express their opinions on this matter also!

  5. 5 Brian H 26/04/2011 at 1:28 am

    This is what a talented and motivated kid can do despite a comprehensive school education.

  6. 6 Headley_Grange 26/04/2011 at 3:18 pm

    I’ll have to take your word that Blowers claimed that Joe was typical, although in the quotation you used in your article she did not.

  7. 7 jameshigham 26/04/2011 at 6:02 pm

    Typical pollie though to jump up after a speech and claim credit for her cause.

  8. 8 Whistleblower 02/02/2012 at 11:19 am

    I have to be controversial. Your article is based on amatuer research where googling seems to be the preferred method of gleaning superficial facts rather than actually visiting the school and making up your own mind. Having worked at the school, and knowing the boy in question, Joe Cotton is a bright kid from a bad comprehensive school. Exactly the type of student to talk about the merits of EMA. You cannot just compare out of date ofsted reports and use that as evidence. Joe is typical of bright pupils that thrive in failing schools. The school in question is failing. Joe thrived in a school where the odds were stacked against him. Joe is typical of many a pupil who thrive in failing schools.

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