Free schools: Won’t somebody think of the children?

This post was written by Owen on October 19, 2013
Posted Under: Education

If you were to ask a member of the current government whether they would ever run the risk of their own children getting a worse education for the sake of upholding a political principle (for example by sending them to an under-performing secular school instead of a higher-achieving religious one, or a dreaded “bog standard comprehensive” instead of a private school), do you think it’s likely they’d say yes?  Most likely the response you’d get would be some variant on “well, principles are all very well, but when it comes down to it you’ve got to do what’s best for your kids, haven’t you?”

This isn’t a completely unreasonable position to take – wanting to do what you think is best for your children is, generally, an admirable trait. The funny thing is, though, that it’s becoming increasingly clear that in his infinite selflessness Michael Gove is perfectly at peace with sacrificing the educations of any number of children for the sake of his political principles. The Al-Madinah Free School debacle has made it abundantly clear that (shockingly enough) giving people state funding to set up and run Free Schools wherever and however they like results in some of these new schools doing a monumentally awful job of educating their students.

What’s truly extraordinary is that no one in the government seems to have considered that there might be a risk of this sort of thing happening to Free schools until now. If you introduce market forces into a sector because you think that’s the only way to spur dynamism and innovation, it shouldn’t be too much of a shock when that sector starts behaving like a market and produces winners and losers. The trouble is that the real losers aren’t the failing schools themselves (though it seems extremely likely that Al-Madinah won’t be the last of those) but rather the children attending those schools. They not only get a poor education while they’re at the failing school, but if it closes down they have their education (and social lives) disrupted by having to move school (if there are even spare school places available where they live, which all too often there won’t be).

There’s an obvious, glaring tension between this and the state’s supposed duty to provide a decent education for every child. Local authority-run state schools can fail too, of course, but there’s massively more scope for things to go wrong at free schools – the staff at local authority-run schools are generally actual qualified teachers, for one thing. Yet the government is pressing ahead with this policy all the same, despite the risks to the education of the children who attend the potentially-failing Free Schools. Presumably that’s OK in Michael Gove’s eyes if it’s not his children who are involved.

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Reader Comments


“Wanting to do what you think is best for your children is, generally, an admirable trait”- Animals do this all the time and they do it with almost unfailing mechanical reliability: do we ever call their behaviour ‘admirable’ or ‘noble’? Why do we ascribe such high meaning labels to basic and habitual conduct? Even the very worst of human beings protect their own children’s interests- there’s nothing magnanimous in looking after your own.
Civilization ought to be measured on how we treat strangers- what is our attitude to the ‘outsider’? If it’s merely a mechanical suspicion for the unfamiliar, whether its a person, experience or an idea, then you’re still on a basic animal level.
What an elitist gang of Imperialistic toffs decide around a table in London should never come as a surprise to any of us- Gove, Osbourne, Cameron et al are unrepentant market fundamentalists who are not for turning. Inflexibility is one of the regressive functions of fanaticism- Ideologues never change their minds. No matter how bad things get they will never examine their basic assumptions- what after all have the right wing learned from Chile, Yeltsin’s Russia, Iraq or the Global financial crash?
If anything they have become more ideologically extreme. They should never have been bailed out in the first place.

Written By wonky on October 30th, 2013 @ 12:54 pm
Jo Bardsley

Don’t be fooled by the government’s rhetoric.

I work in a ‘bog standard comprehensive’. I have worked in private education. No one in a ‘bog standard comprehensive’ sets their classes five pages of grammar to do in an hour and then reads the paper at the front of the class. They do in private education. I’ve seen them.

There are lots of stats about private schools failing Ofsted. You can look them up if you want to. The central idea is this: people think that because they have paid for something, that it must be better quality. But education isn’t a commodity.

What you pay for in a private school isn’t the teeacher, its the other kids. The teacher probably trained a long time ago (if at all) and hasn’t been required to keep up with any current research at all. That teacher isn’t going to make any difference at all to how your child learns. The differnce will be that the other children are good little boys and girls who always do what they are told and will not disrupt the class when they are given pages of mind numbing grammar to do.

The other thing you will get when you pay for a private education is a grooming of expectations, everyone will be expecting your child to go to university. So your child will aim higher in order to keep up.

I will send my children to a bog standard comp, because I actually have faith in what they do. But I’m just a teacher, so there’s no need to listen to me anyway.

Written By Jo Bardsley on October 31st, 2013 @ 12:27 pm

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