Wednesday 20 June 2012

Boris plays with the Education toy now.

I couldn't have predicted it better. Yesterday I posted here that education is treated by politicians and bureaucrats as their toy and today the news is that Boris Johnson, London Mayor, has pitched to Central Government, the idea that his office should have control over London's schools.

I sometimes think that politicians only survive because enough people have short memories and enough people are young enough to not know recent history. With stunning ruthlessness, Margaret Thatcher and Michael Hesletine abolished a legal, democratic entity, the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) against the wishes expressed through the ballot box and/or by opinion poll. The ILEA wasn't perfect - what authority, what institution ever is? But the great advantage of it from a parent's point of view was that it offered us a regional way of running schools. It's worth bearing in mind here that big cities with good transport links offer a very wide choice of schools to parents. The ILEA was committed to comprehensive education and did a great deal trying to support a massive change in the nature of London's schoolchildren.

When it was abolished, everyone in education and plenty of people in local government said it was crazy, it would increase costs massively by replicating services from one borough to the next, some boroughs would find it very difficult to run a whole education service, and that education would not be well served by the change. And guess what? It happened. In the London Borough where I lived, the borough was found to be too incompetent and corrupt to run education so it was put under the auspices of a trust, who quickly built a great set of facilities very near to other boroughs' great facilities. Some of these are now fast turning into white elephants (or is it the Marie Celeste?) because local authority education officers and staff are being fired by the score. Meanwhile, over this period several of the boroughs first abolished sixth forms inside schools, created sixth form colleges and are now reversing this, putting back the sixth forms which will presumably empty out the sixth form colleges.

And now up steps Boris Johnson with a plan that his office should take over education. Of course there are strategic reasons for this - which we all pointed out when the ILEA was abolished, but it should be remembered that this authority isn't as democratic as the ILEA whose members we chose at the London ballot box. There is at present no trained staff, no offices but then presumably that can all be changed by decanting borough staff to the centre (along with sacking even more).

Either way, it's easy to see that yet again education is a toy for politicians to bat around. And each time they do a bit of batting, there are enormous costs and we all - children, parents, teachers and non-teaching staff have to accommodate the politicians' grand schemes. There's something Napoleonic about it all. One thing that Napoleonism has got going for it though - it hasn't changed for 200 years!