Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Education Matters: FREE SCHOOLS GALORE!

In R.Richardson on December 22, 2015 at 4:27 pm

One of the election pledges made by David Cameron was to extend the free schools programme.

Now he has promised that 500 will open over the next five years, with 52 in this term alone.

Like academies, free schools operate outside Local Authority control and do not have to follow the National Curriculum. Gypsy Hill secondary school in South West London, which opens this term, offers a curriculum based on the Ancient Greeks’ “classical trivium”, with grammar, logic and rhetoric as the foundations of learning.

A letter in the “i” newspaper (from a teacher and parent) dubs the idea ludicrous. The Greeks’ intention, according to the letter, was that this curriculum was just for a tiny minority – those who intended a career in politics or the law.  It’s just one more example of a school going its own way free from national curriculum restraints.

no_acadmeny_HereUNIONS SPEAK OUT:
At September’s TUC conference, both Mary Boustead, of the ATL, and Christine Blower, General Secretary of the NUT, made speeches roundly condemning the Government’s policy on free schools and academies.

Schools have been coerced into becoming academies said Christine Blower, sometimes being approached by education “advisers” who may at the same time be working for an academy chain – a quite outrageous conflict of interest. Academy chains of course answer to their shareholders.  “Neither educational excellence nor equity will be their driving force,” said Christine Blower.

Mary Bousted drew attention to the proposed Education and Adoption Bill which would deny parents and teachers any information about the sponsor which would take over the running of their school on its conversion to an academy. Apparently the Department for Education has its own grading system for academy sponsors, but refuses to publish these on the grounds that it is against the sponsor’s “commercial interest”.

PLAN FOR THE MOST NEEDED:

Russell Hardy (General Secretary of the National Union of Head Teachers) has pointed out the need for overall planning for the provision of new schools, particularly in view of the projected  large increase in pupil numbers. School places need to be provided where they are most needed – which is just not happening as the free schools movement is rolled out.

LEAGUE TABLES:
League tables have been part and parcel of the education scene for over twenty years now. The idea is that if schools compete with each other (rather than co-operating?)  They will improve.  The incentive to move up the ladder, so the thinking goes, will be irresistible.

Of course there’s much that goes on in the life of a school that cannot be measured by league tables, but apparently some parents see them as being of over-riding importance.

An article in the “i” by Chris Blackhurst describes the lengths that some parents go to, to get their child into the school of their choice, often moving house or buying a second home in the catchment area. Another aspect of the emphasis placed on league tables was highlighted by the paper’s education editor, Richard Garner. Schools are using community languages such as Polish or Urdu, to gain top-grade GCSE results for native speakers and thus boost their rankings.

In fact for a pupil who is fluent in his/her home language, it might well be more beneficial to study another language altogether – but that might not help the school in its league table placing!

WHAT ABOUT JEREMY?
I hadn’t heard much about Jeremy Corbyn’s policies on education, but on his website there is quite a lot of information.

Corbyn would seek to place academies and free schools back under LEA control and would end the charitable status of public schools. Tuition fees would be scrapped and replaced with grants (just like the good old days!). There would be funding for adult skills’ training throughout life, and Corbyn would also seek to establish universal affordable childcare.
Incidentally, on Jeremy Corbyn’s website, too, is his ten-point “Standing to Deliver” plan, which he first outlined in Scotland in August. It’s well worth reading.

RUTH RICHARDSON

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