England’s schools: Free for all?
(Photo of Michael Gove)
Addressing the fringe held at the Conservative Party Conference, Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove again insisted that the Government’s ‘freedom’ plans would benefit schools and teachers, claiming they would “return respect and prestige to the profession.”
He reiterated his belief that encouraging greater competition between schools would raise standards and promote innovation.
(Photo of Fiona Millar)
A contrasting view was provided by writer and journalist Fiona Millar, a leading educationalist, who told Liberal Democrat delegates that she believed academies and free schools are a ‘trojan horse’ for the introduction of a privately owned, statefunded education system.
She said that academies and free schools would result in a narrowing of the curriculum, restricting pupils’ aspirations and reinforcing social divisions.
The Coalition Government’s plans for education will entrench social segregation and abandon those children most in need, the Shadow Schools Secretary Ed Balls told Labour delegates.
State schools will not be able to compete effectively with the new raft of free schools and academies planned by the Coalition, Mr Balls suggested, with financial incentives draining money from comprehensive education into the private coffers of academy sponsors and free school founders.
“We keep hearing about all these so-called ‘freedoms’ the Coalition is going to give schools, with promises of bigger budgets and financial independence, but the reality is that schools will not be able to rely on the expertise and value for money support provided by local authorities,” he said.
“The Government points to the pupil premium as evidence they are tackling educational disadvantage, but in fact schools will not get any more money than they would have received under Labour,” he concluded.
(Photo of Becky Francis)
Professor Becky Francis, Director of Education at the RSA, said that social justice was being undermined by the Government’s plans, which would increase competition between schools and allow some schools to flourish at the expense of their neighbours.
“The RSA supports greater autonomy for schools,” she explained, “but this must be balanced with a commitment to social justice and accountability.”
The NASUWT believes it is critical that the public/private relationship is one that protects democratic accountability and equality of access to services.
The NASUWT believes the advent of free and academy schools are jeopardising both of these values.
Does Local Government have a role in public services?
Chris Keates told Liberal Democrat delegates: “We are not naysayers for private sector involvement in public services, but we are concerned with examining what is the best relationship between the private and public sectors in terms of service delivery. We believe it crosses the line when they are handed the governance and management of schools and previously public assets such as schools are given over to private organisations.”
At the Labour Conference, Iain Wright [right], Shadow Education Minister, called for the relationship between local government and the public to be strengthened, possibly through the election of police and fire services. He echoed the NASUWT’s view, warning against the ‘fragmenting of education into two tiers’ through academies and free schools. At the Conservative Conference, the importance of the strategic overview provided by local authorities was emphasised for delegates by Emma Knights of the National Governors’ Association.
She argued that school governors are not always equipped to deal with every challenge of running a 21st century school and that local authorities play a critical role in scrutinising and supporting governors’ actions.
“It is important that schools and governors are trusted, but I believe there needs to be a system to ensure that schools are meeting all their statutory and educational requirements and functions"