Monday 30 January 2012

Opening soon: The Richard Branson School, House of Saud School; Apple Mac School etc etc

Gor blimey,  you have to move quick to keep up with these Tories on education.

I was listening to 'Analysis' on BBC Radio 4 this evening: 'Do Schools Make a Difference?'  (The answer to that question, by the way, was 'not much' or, to be precise: 10%. The other 90% was 'background' and schools couldn't and don't affect that. ) The programme's line at the end, though, was that if you become a teacher and you have no optimism that you can 'make a difference' then you won't help anyone. So best to be an optimist. (I think I've got the dimensions of what was being suggested here.)

The programme leant towards the idea that all that New Labour stuff about school improvement was by and large tosh and was little more than a massive perk for New Labour trusties embedded in universities concocting 'research' which proved that this or that process 'worked'. More chattily, the programme came to the exciting new conclusion that a good school with good teachers. (I kid you not.) However, no one on the programme could make the intellectual effort to consider ways in which teachers could be given incentives and structures to help them develop - (which I've always believed can be achieved by teachers researching their own work and sharing their study with each other.)

Mr Mossbourne (previously of this parish,now residing in Ofsted), Michael Wilshaw got his usual crack of the whip to tell us that schools needed a good headteacher teachers.

But never mind all that - what exactly is today's Tory line on education? Last week, you'll remember Michael Gove was going down the market to flog them off - 'Not just one. Not just two. But three lovely schools - look, I'm throwing a playing field in on top for you. And a caretaker. How about that? To the woman in blue. Not for 1 million, not for 500 thou, not even ladies for 250 - take the whole lot with a recycling bin thrown in for a one hundred grand. Take it or leave it. Are you with me or against me? Let me see the colour of your money...'

Now Nick Gibb's line is slightly different. He seems to be saying, 'anything goes so long as it's good'. Yes, he said that the Tories were going to abolish 'top-down' directives. That's all over. (Tell that to the Haringey parents who are having their schools forced into Academy status! Tell that to the Year 1 teachers teaching initial reading with phonics only and preparing for the phonics test for 6 year olds. Not top-down? That sort of thing is more top-down than  an Olympic toboggan race.) What the Tories are aiming for is diversity. So that if parents wanted to have a 'traditional' school, there'd be one for them. If they wanted a 'progressive one' with 'child-centred learning' there'd be one of them.

Yes, you heard it here: Tory minister says that if parents want the kind of schools that they've been mocking and despising for the last 40 years, then so long as it's good, says Nick Gibb Schools Minister, that's fine by him.

Yes, you have to run to keep up with these guys. We're looking at a moment in history where the role of the state in education is changing very fast. I suspect that within ten years they will have created an education system that is essentially an archipelago of institutions run by a mix of trusts, consortia, hustlers, charities, private companies with a complex network of scholarships, subsidies, sponsorships and the like.

We will be wrong to describe this as either the 'market' or 'state education'. This will be hybrid education; a hunting ground for 'outsourced providers' turning up with truckloads of 'materials'. If you were to mass together all the theatres in this country and asked, 'What kind of system is that?' you would see everything from commercial theatres, theatres run by a trust trying to get money from local authorities or the Arts Council, some with monies from an old foundation,  - some with some kind of social commitment, some with none, some in upstairs rooms of pubs, some apparently lavish and so on. Maybe that's what schools will be like.

So,look if you work for a charity, an outsourced provider (eg refuse collecting), some kind of educational trust or charity, a university or if you're just plain bloody rich, then education is your new frontier. I predict it's a matter of months before we have the Richard Branson School alongside the Gulbenkian Foundation School alongside the House of Saud School alongside the Apple Mac School, all the present faith schools, specialist schools, free schools, private schools and so on.