Sunday 13 October 2013

Tristram Hunt - what he could have said.

What are we to make of Tristram Hunt's announcement about Free Schools?

1. First and foremost it reveals that Labour are not going to disrupt or challenge the outrageous concentration of powers that the Secretary of State for Education now has at his or her disposal. What is even more incredible is that the mighty collective of our free press and democratically elected politicians seem paralysed and unable to investigate, dissect and challenge this. With Labour's collaboration with this dangerous situation, we are in democracy deficit here.

In an ideal world, Tristram Hunt's first pronouncement would have made clear that his totalitarian situation cannot prevail. Education is too complex, too dependent on the active, intellectual labour of so many people that bossing them from an office in Westminster is absurd and immoral.

2. Hunt is a historian. There is a history of 'free' or 'locally run' schools in this country and elsewhere. Some of it is within the private sector - so let's leave that to one side. Another tradition is firmly within the locally controlled sector - a system of control that is much more preferable to the diktat of one officer of state from his or her desk in Westminster. One of these traditions can be found in the 'Village Colleges' set-up in Cambridgeshire as pioneered by Henry Morris. The reason why this is so little known outside of Cambridgeshire is because by their very existence they challenge the centralised control of education. In New York City, a group of parents and teachers set up the Manhattan New School WITHIN the district set-up. There are other examples all over the world. Hunt could and should have drawn the attention of the country to these and outflanked Gove and his totalitarian powers which in effect mean: 'I approve, I control, I open or close any school I like'.

3. Hunt knows his Putney debates from the English Civil War. He knows of the debates within the British Army in the last months of World War 2. He might even know of the wonderful Language in the National Curriculum seminars, conferences and reports (20 million quid thrown away in the early 1990s.) He could and should have announced that the first move he would make (and it could start now) would be to put in motion Putney Debates on education, wide-ranging conferences, seminars, 'action-research' by teachers in conjunction with researchers, to investigate and report on 'What is learning?' 'Literacy', 'Numeracy' etc etc.

4. Hunt could have given an outline of all the participants in education and said that before he moved he would find ways in which he could bring together representatives of these - ie the pupils, teachers, school workers, researchers, local authority providers, civil servants. His fiefdom is not enormous ie England. He could have done this regionally and set up 'commissions of study' and he would have found thousands of people willing to contribute as a prelude to Labour winning power.

5. I suspect that the only people Hunt spoke to prior to announcing these Gove-lite proposals are people at the top of the Labour Party. I suspect that some of these are unelected 'strategy' experts who reckon that they are cunning beyond compare who can divine the way the wind is blowing before it's blown.