Monday, 29 August 2011

Freedon from loacl authority control?

Michael Gove proudly announce over the weekend that 24 "free schools" would open their doors in September "free from local authority control." This statement is highly misleading in two senses.

Firstly it as been pointed out umpteen times that local authorities no longer have much control over any schools. What control they had has been whittled away over many years by governments preaching decentralisation and practising centralisation.What local authorises still do is provide services: for example, facilities for disruptive pupils excluded from mainstream schools, and financial services. A few years ago there was outrage that headteachers had lost millions of pounds by making bad deals on buildings and other contracts. Why should we have been surprised? Headteachers are trained (we hope) to inspire the young: local authorities have lawyers and accountants trained to make contracts.

Above all local authorities plan educational provision in the interests of the entire area. Allowing "free schools" to make "public" provision for tiny enclaves or special interests without regard to the welfare of society as a whose is hardly likely to lead to community cohesion.

Secondly the statement implies that local authorities are or were an obstacle to providing successful eduction. The opposite is the truth. I was fortunate enough to be educated under the great West Riding education authority, lead by the formidable Sir Alec Clegg, many of whose innovations were copied throughout the world. The Leicester education authority introduced middle schools. Although these did not meet with universal support they were copied by many other parts of the country. What is stifling in he heavy hand of central control.

One millstone from which these new schools are "freed" is the national curriculum, probably the most illiberal measure of the last half century, and shamefully supported by Don Foster when Liberal Democrat education spokesman. The answer here is to revert to the system of leaving the curriculum in the hands of the schools, where the professional judgement of teachers will, as argued in the previous post, best devise programmes most appropriate for the pupils in their care.

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