Thursday, May 27, 2010

Education? Education? Education?

I really don't buy the big society idea. Sure, there will be the smokescreen of a handful of parents' groups who will establish their own schools - there's one in London, conveniently sited close to the media outlets, that is used as an example of who will be empowered by Michael Gove's proposals. Thing is though, running a school - or any major public service - isn't a hobby. It is a full time job for professionals. We already involve parents in running schools - we call them governors and they can be very hard to find and retain.

This seems to go against the other agenda of freeing up local councils - who are to get control back over housing and planning, but will now lose control over many of their local schools. Instead, control will shift to central government as the source of all funding and to the school operators, who may not even be in this country.

But there are other problems. Planning provision for schooling will be more difficult without control over which schools go where. Cllr Tim raises a key question - are parents always best placed to decide on education or are they too close to the matter?
Now, don't get me wrong, as a governor I really appreciate the role of the parent governor. They give an insight and an enthusiasm that adds a much needed element to a school governing body. But, just as staff governors shouldn't make decisions about pay or staffing levels or recruitment etc. there are areas where parents are NOT the best people to consider elements of how a school operates.
Areas which may specifically affect (positively or negatively) on their own children for example. I often have to deal with groups of parents who get very animated about some decisions taken with a strategic view of education, for the benefit of the school, or the community, which they perceive to be not in their own interests. They become, understandably, very emotional (as do I) when things impact on their own children. This does not make for good decision making. The notion that such a group could, in response to such an emotional attachment, decide to set up their own school or take over an existing school is not an idea I am at all comfortable with. And it is precisely such a circumstance which is likely to lead to the demand for a 'free school'.

And then we know that these schools will be directly funded by government, but that the enhanced funding will come out of the total school spend with no new money attached. This will create a two tier system even worse than the grammar school system.

But the real driver isn't to let parents get involved, it is to open the school system up to private suppliers. Mike Ion looks at the experience in the US, where profit-making companies run schools and finds that they cost the same, offer poorer quality education and are clearly focussed on driving profit, not education quality. Truly, this is a disturbing look at what may be our future.

Cllr Tim reminds us that Sarah Teather was attacking the Tory policy as a 'shambles,' adding
Unless you give local authorities that power to plan and unless you actually make sure that there is money available... it's just a gimmick
Sarah Teather is now schools minister and will be introducing this shambolic gimmickry into law.

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