Friday, 25 March 2016

Gibb on academies this morning. It's nonsense.

Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister was on BBC Radio 4 Today this morning.

The new line he repeated several times is that 'we can't have two systems of education' in one country. He mean we can't have the local authority system running alongside the academy system.

1. Cynics might say that the reason why 'we' can't is that it's frequently uncomfortable for him and the Tories that local authority schools are doing fine, or even doing better than academies.

But there's another bit of nonsense here: English education has long been one of several systems or even many systems which separate and segregate children and parents and teachers: obviously there's the private and public division, with private schools being left out of this whole debate anyway. Then there is the religious, non-religious divide - and religious schools are also divided between 'voluntary controlled' and 'voluntary aided'. There are old Foundation schools where the land and school is held by the Foundation Trust and not by the local authority. Then again in counties like Kent there are 'grammar schools' i.e. selective schools, and the other 'high' schools which are to all intents and purposes, 'secondary modern schools'.

2. Another of Gibb's myths was the one about how academy chains free heads up to co-operate with each other. Headteachers and schools across local authorities have been co-operating for decades. Some of the best work on co-operation has happened this way - Tim Brighouse's work is one of many examples. The Language in the National Curriculum project was another (£20 million invested then thrown away because Tories didn't like the 'autonomy' given to teachers!)

3. Even so, the phrase 'local authority bureaucracy' much repeated is a nonsense too. Yes, LA's have people who run education. These have in the past included experienced teacher advisers who have helped schools. But this abolishing bureaucracy is typical populist government talk. What do we think that the appointment of tiers of management and supervision coming from the new Regional Commissioners and the people sitting in the academy chain HQs is all about? Are they not bureaucrats?

4. Finally, the key buzzword is 'autonomy'. The curriculum is ruled by the exam and test system. It is a form of micro-management that extends way beyond what happens on test day. Any parent, child and teacher will tell us how each centrally run, high stakes test has a 'tailback' into teaching and curriculum (i.e. 'lessons') that stretches back at least a year, usually two years. This means that education is becoming more and more about preparation for the test or exam coming up in two years' or one year's or one month's time. And part of that preparation is doing mock questions, mock tests that fit the exact model of the test questions in the final high stakes test.

Remember, the man talking about 'autonomy' this morning sent a letter to the Times Educational Supplement' 'clarifying' the use of exclamation marks. When I joke that he is the Minister for Exclamation Marks, I'm only half-kidding. This is central control as never before. And he talks about 'autonomy'.

5. (It should also be noted that this morning he seems to imagine that all headteachers are men. When we say that these Tories are stuck in some strange parallel universe made up of nannies, private schools, laughing at people who write to Jeremy Corbyn, ex-members of the Bullingdon Club, talking about people as a 'bunch of migrants' is staggering to hear them confirming the narrow, secluded culture they grew up in, on a mass media outlet like radio. And Gibb thinks he suffers from being the oik  amongst the grandees, always going on about how deprived he was of a full education....but most of his education was private so heaven knows why he blames local authorities for his own miseries....but that's another matter. Well, it would be, if these people - Gove was another - who use the perceived greatness or crapness of their own education as a rationale for how education should be run now.)