Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Education: Anything but the obvious

Our Dear Leader is about to pronounce on education.

"Where there is significant parental dissatisfaction with the pattern of local secondary school provision and where standards across an area are too low, the local authority will be required to act. Action could mean either federation of underperforming schools with excellent schools, expansion of good schools and in some cases entirely new schools."
One would have thought that Local Authorities were always "required to act", in fact they should not even need parents to tell them, but to KNOW that their schools are patchy and many mediocre. One suspects that LEAs have had a tin ear for a very long time. Labour solution - more law, targets, monitoring instead of the simple, highly effective, self-regulating mechanism of the market, i.e stop preventing schools from being established.

By removing the barriers, new schools can be formed in areas where people feel there is a need for good schools, so bringing competition and surplus places. Surplus places will allow a bad school to be abandoned. In reality, if evidence from Sweden is to be used, bad schools shape up rather than ship out. The constant surplus of places - a concept that the State systemically cannot cope with - keeps everyone on their toes, for each knows that if they slide, they will end up with empty classrooms, no income from vouchers and a search for a new job. It also allows people to move house without the constant panic of where their kids will be go. If we have generally good or outstanding schools with surplus capacity, that concern will be significantly reduced. Right now it is a nightmare.

The Tories give the impression they want to go down this route, but they still wish to have central control. Instead of the LPUK mechanism of removing barriers, the Tories stick to their Authoritarian roots and wish for LEAs to "ask" if they can be "permitted" to open new schools and that the Tories wish to "bring in big business". The former will not work if you a) are unlucky enough to have an LEA Trotskyite Soviet and/or an LEA that realises they will lose power, control and an excuse for their massive bureaucracy or b) if the Tories decide your case is not good enough. This and the latter are both ripe for corruption and influence peddling. Damnable stuff and should be avoided like the plague.

Gordon is having none of the freedoms the LPUK wish to bring (back) in.

But Mr Brown will say that while there is a role for parents running schools where they wish to, the vast majority of parents do not want the burden of running their own school. They want world class teachers and school providers to do it for them, he will say.
OK, so because some don't want to run schools, NOBODY except the LEA is going to be permitted to do so. Where is the logic in that? It is totally non-sequitur, a three card trick. Don't waste your time trying to apply logic and reason to Gordon's stance - it is pure, unadulterated, steaming dogma. I also do not believe for one moment that "parents running schools where they wish to" will ever be permitted under Labour. I think the Daily Telegraph has misunderstood or been very kind. Lets see what the speech actually says later today.

The Prime Minister will say parent power does need strengthening in other ways. Where there is significant parental dissatisfaction with the pattern of local secondary school provision and where standards across an area are too low, the local authority will be required to act, he will tell teachers.
All this management would not be needed if you just left schools alone. Good, oversubscribed, schools would tend to push to expand themselves naturally. Under-performing schools would federate or link up to learn how to improve or, possibly, be taken over by neighbouring schools. Stop preventing new schools from being founded and they will be founded. It does NOT need the LEA or "some pronouncement by Him" to "make it so". Control, insecurity, vanity. It is all there.

This fumbling, unresponsive, decades late realisation of what to do about our schools is a classic example of why the State should not be in the job of education provision. This move seems to have the sole purpose of trying to lance the boil of dissatisfaction without dealing with the underlying causes. No delivery except to reduce the attractiveness of voting Tory - or is that "not voting Labour". The latter, methinks. It is pure politics, cynical.

The Tories and Labour do not have the right answers. They are both too Authoritarian and appear incapable of trusting the professionals in the Teaching profession - mainly Heads - or the common sense and "bush telegraph" of parents to sniff out the good and the bad.

The LPUK alone in understands that Heads and parents are the best agents in forming a world-class educational system. It is irrational to think one can form a perfect system with no errors or gaps by central control, tendering out or a GOSPLAN. Such a system will be slow to respond, subject to political dogma, open to corruption and highly likely to be wrong on far too many occasions, with no easy way out for parents. In contrast, the LPUK proposals will enable parents to have a good opportunity to bypass any localised flaws, for there is no compulsion, no monopoly and no central point of failure.

DECLARATION OF INTEREST: I am a parent. I am looking for a good school. Good schools are like hen's teeth. I have considered Surrey over the last few weeks and so I did a survey of all the primary schools in Surrey and went through all the OFSTED reports. Some excellent schools but, depressingly, far too many "satisfactory" schools, where you can see the only reason they are so is that nothing was seen to warrant unsatisfactory. That, to me, is not good enough. Not even CLOSE.

In pretty much every case of an outstanding school, the Head was the bedrock, the well from which the culture was drawn. This to me this is clear evidence that the LEA is not really critical in the quality of the school. If Surrey has a bad LEA, why as many outstanding schools? If Surrey has a good LEA, why so many mediocre schools? No, the LEA is not the deciding factor, so why should it have the A, as in "Authority" in its name?

LEAs might consider becoming LEDs - Local Education Departments - to advise schools should the schools wish to make use of their services. The LED should be entirely funded by those schools who wish to use its services while other companies or voluntary school collectives/mutuals should not be prevented from setting up and providing central administration or other functions if they wish. If the LED is doing a good job and providing value, then great. If it is not, then either shape up or ship out. If the LEA better consider it long and hard under the LPUK, for the alternative is oblivion.