Education May 21 2010

What about the parents who don’t want to start their own schools?

What happens if you don’t want to set up a new school? The Tories appear to have won the coalition battle on schools policy and new ‘free’ schools’ set up by parents, charities and profit making companies will be pushed ruthlessly. All the signs are that, in spite of the Liberal Democrats grass roots commitment to local oversight, the new schools will have non-existent relationships with their local authorities and therefore their neighbours.

But what does that mean for everyone else? there are over 23,000 schools in this country. Are we of no interest to the new government? On the morning that David Cameron was holding his ‘Big Society’ forum at Downing Street, I was sitting in a rather gloomy meeting, with other chairs of governors in my area, contemplating what will now happen to the new school buildings we have been planning for the past two and a half years.

If it weren’t such an idiotic title, you could describe us as one of David Cameron’s ‘little platoons’. Every one of us gives up hours each week to try and improve our schools and the lives of our pupils. The Building Schools for the Future project, now under review by the new government, has more than doubled that workload and involved pupils, heads, staff as well.

Many of our buildings are outdated and in need of refurbishment and many of our pupils come from the sort of disadvantaged families the new Lib/Tory coalition professes to care about. However we now face the prospect of losing some, or all , of that money in order to fund new schools that may not even be needed.

And the anxieties don’t end with school buildings. Creating hundred of free schools will automatically create hundreds of new admissions authorities. At a time when most parents want a school admissions system that is fair and easy to use, they are likely to get one that is unfair, complicated and divisive.

Local authorities also hold the ring when it comes to exclusions, special needs and the behaviour partnerships that are starting to ensure the most challenging pupils are shared out among all schools. So schools that remain within the local authority family will increasingly become the refuge of the most challenging pupils, whose faces don’t fit in the ‘free schools’. This is already the case in Sweden on which this new model is based.

There are big questions here too for the Labour leadership candidates. Remember the’ direction of travel’ that was so hotly contested during the passage of the 2006 Education and Inspections Act? Well this was where it was leading. In words and deeds, the Labour government paved the way for the sort of fragmented ‘free for all’ we are about to witness.

Hopefully now, on the edge of the abyss, we can have a discussion about the sort of school system we want – preferably one in which change and reform is part of a system wide, collective process and not simply about benefitting some parents, and children, at the expense of the rest.

Link to original article on Commentisfree

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