Wednesday 18 July 2012

'Free schools' - a new social engineering

This is a thread by and about a chap called Toby Blume who is setting up a free school:

 I have contributed to the comments at 11.17 pm July 17 (see below). 

However, it is these two comments which I think indicate something quite sinister going on:

18 July 2012 1:02AM
Response to SirJoshuaReynolds, 17 July 2012 4:12PM
In principal I see the contributors are all crying out for the same thing- a decent mixed-sex, non-selective, non-faith comprehensive school for all the kids in the community including theirs- but the way to acheive it differs with the local circumstance. Greenwich kids (and parents) could not believe that kids in Kent have only 4 comprehensive schools to serve the entire county. The concept of compulsory single sex grammar schools for the top 23% entered by a knock out test is normal in Kent. There are swathes of the country where the only opt out from going to an Anglican school is by sending your kids to mass (and them being seen) so they can go to the Roman Catholic Comp.

I had served as governor in secondary, middle, first and infant schools and in the main it doesn't make a blind bit of difference- as you do not control the levers you need to implement real change. The curriculum is set by Whitehall at the lunatics whim, the capital finance is controlled by the LEA which in turn is throttled by Whitehall, running finance is fairly allocated by the LEA at a level they will admit is inadequate and dependant on the beauty contest called OFSTED. The appointment of a head is a critical governor decision- but the shortlist is controlled by LEA implementing Whitehall bidding. The intake is selfselecting- so cannot be balanced- and the drain on funding caused by special needs requirements distorts your choice of staff. The role of the Governor has been totally usurped.

As a governor you are one of many- new parent governors are under many delusions- many encouraged by the electoral process. Suffice to say, many are conservative in values and if not understanding the issue just vote with the head who asked them to stand. Some see it as opportunity to be useful on sports days and on school trips as indeed they are. Staff governors have to declare a conflict of interest and not vote on all the issues where their expertise would be valuable.

I had finished my term before my secondary school had to agree to academy status just to unlock enough cash to fix the roof.

So where does that leave parents that have the same principles as us. If free schools is the only crack in the system it has to investigated. I can never see such a group suceeding- it takes the commitment of a religious nut and the financial backing of a large organisation to lever out the money from government. And the steering committee must be on top of the job 365.25 days a year, nothing is how it seems and every line of text issued must be questionned. I think this is where the article should have started as every banana skin needs to be exposed. To be successful there need to be a lot of grey hairs.

Look at the task ahead. Preparing one child to fulfil their potential in a uncertain future is the normal experience of a parent. Take on the responsiblility for doing that for your neighbours kid- and another- and another- and another... With some, you are taking on the reponsibility to fulfil their emotional needs (which Goves parents failed totally to do)- some to keep them off drugs and alive to the age of 18- some to propel them to UCL or a top European University- some to handle the break up of their parents relationship and potential physical abuse- the responsibility is awesome. Eight hundred or so separate individuals. And it will need to be that number to offer a full post 16 choice. That is routine in a secondary school. In a state school the burden is shared by the LEA but in a free school the buck stops with you.

Sitting in a room- and putting up hands and compromising principles is the easy bit. A bland statement beloved by Gove. The reality is really beyond the ability of all- only the biggoted or religious nuts would believe they were capable. What is the alternative?

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18 July 2012 12:32AM
I have followed all the comments thus and the degree of malice has really saddened me.

I attended the meeting last night as well as 3 previous meetings. Earlier on within this process there was a sincere discussion about what options were open to the group to help ensure a high quality of education for all the children within the local community.

The idea of a free school was not greeted with great enthusiasum initially. However, they were told in no uncertain terms that the LA's hands were tied and that they could not provide a community school as Central Covernment has decreed that Free Schools would get priority. Barnet are a Conservative Council and they are not in the habit of standing up for the people of N2. There were 2 free school providers who were looking for sites in Barnet - both were faith schools. The concept of supporting the existing schools and encouraging them to evolve and expand was largely supported, but there was one key problem. There is simply nowhere near enough non denominational provision for girls in the area. There is a real, and recognised problem in this London Borough. The local boys school (now academy!) where both my step sons attended, is steadfast in its refusal to become coeducational, although it does have a mixed sixth form. I would love to send my daughter to a local, non denominational school but there simply isn't one. Not even a failing one. I believe that if there was one a significant number of the group would be more than happy to bring their engage wholeheartedly in efforts to improve it for the greater good, but there is simply not that option.

It was, I believe with a degree of reluctance that this group of parents started this process, but they had no choice. I am still not comfortable with the Free School principle. In theory a good LEA should have the expertise, experience and overview to best provide for the vast majority of children within the Borough. However, in practical terms this is not going to happen in this borough before the intake of 2013 are looking for school places for their own children. It is not an ideal situation, but life rarely is - but this group should be respected for not just accepting the status quo, for not deserting the area and for trying to make a positive difference to the community.

Quite frankly some of the bile that has been vented is quite shameful.


I have responded as follows:

Just to say, that whatever motivates those who set up free schools, the comments by frindsbury and TJCDN2 offer a real insight into precisely how the Conservatives at national and local level are smashing up universal school provision. This is sale of council houses all over again: a deliberate undermining and breaking of the social contract we have with each other, that we can together provide for all of us, all our needs. In its place, it does indeed ask, demand and coerce people into individualistic 'solutions'.

These two posts tell a story that is going on right now, in an increasing number of localities and gives a much, much better picture of reality than is on offer from the media. How ironic that the Tories love to accuse socialists of 'social engineering' but the picture painted by these two is indeed of a new form of social engineering: deliberate witholding of resources and talent in order to squeeze supporters of the comprehensive system into this new one.

It's like starving a vegetarian into eating meat.


My earlier comment on this thread was as follows:

At the heart of this story is someone telling us that a group of people have given up on a concept: state run education with that 'running' channelled through local authorities. As it happens this concept has never been quite as unified as I have suggested. First, (1944) because of the perceived power of the vested interests of religion and/or merchant companies various categories of school succeeded in hanging on to a different status: 'voluntary controlled' , 'voluntary aided', 'foundation', 'direct grant' and the like. In recent years, first New Labour and now the Tories have exploited these divisions creating a batch of yet more different status schools: CTC's, yet more 'faith schools', federations and Academies. Meanwhile, whole chunks of schooling are about to be handed over (in effect, sold) to large media corporations. The 'free' schools are just another part of this fragmentation.

What has taken shape then is a surrender of the idea that it is the state-plus-local-authority's problem to educate the whole cohort, locality by locality. As we know, it is no longer this system of state plus local authority's problem to run water, the railways, health, or social housing. So what is the guiding principle we are left with? In essence, competition. Each unit within education will have to find customers, and deliver a service based on its ability to score on a set of tests which in turn have no evidence backing up their professed intentions (eg to produce literacy). Supreme state power lies in the hands of the office of the Secretary of State for Education who has found recently that he does indeed have the power to close schools, dismiss governing bodies and so on.

So we have Napoleon at the top, multinationals buying up the curricula, businesses competing against each other in the locality each claiming a sector of the population, one having the Catholics, another having the Jews, another having the evangelicals, another having the walking worried and so on. And we know for certain that this system will be worse overall at educating the children of the uneducated, worse at enabling children discover that it is indeed possible for people of different cultures and a degree of social class variance to get along, and (as others have said above) that it is possible to put in effort as a parent both individually with one's own children and with a local authority school for a greater good of some kind.

It will take some years for the new kinds of social and academic segregation to shake out, a few years for the stats to emerge but I have no doubt in my mind that what is happening will simply sharpen and accentuate how a class society (in the marxist sense) manages to entrench and reinforce and reproduce class within education. No, I don't for one moment think that education has ever overcome those class divisions but what is taking place will quite soon shake down to these being made yet more clearly defined and controlled by education than they have been in recent years.

In spite of the fact that we very nearly all go to school, the social structuring of schooling as a whole is quite mysterious and difficult to grasp. I'm not for one moment going to say I've grasped it all either. However, I'm damn certain that we are in the midst of the greatest changes since 1944 - much greater than the incomplete comprehensivisation programme.