Vision For Education Needed If Opposition To Gove’s Plans Is To Be Effective

The government’s free school and academies policy has been taking blow after blow over the last few months.

Individuals running or sponsoring academies have been accused of fraud (Glendene Arts Academy and King’s Science Academy for example) and there has been excessive expenditure by senior management and other staff at others such as those at the Education Fellowship Trust where the Education Funding Agency has recently found “highly unusual” financial practices such as governors’ expenses of £45,000, a trip to New York and unadvertised jobs for family members.

The West London Free School, pet project of Toby Young, the media guru of free schools, has just lost its second Headteacher in its short history.

The Swedish Provider Internationella Engelska Skolan (IES) of England’s first for-profit free school IES Breckland has admitted it is providing a sub-standard education to its students and has been forced to stage its own inspection of the state-funded independent, and found it is “not representative of our schools”, with concerns over teaching quality.

Now we find money is being siphoned off the state sector to prop up free schools. This at a time when it appears that many free schools have not recruited a full intake and have done little to ease the shortage of school places.

Labour has announced some policies, most recently in Blunkett’s recently released report. These policies are supposed to counter the current situation where the government has central control of an increasingly large number of autonomous academies and free schools.

However, instead of placing all schools back into the hands of the local authorities, which would be the logical step, there would be 40 to 80 directors of school standards on 5 year contracts and located in cities and within groups of local authorities. They would be chosen from a shortlist approved by the government, so not as independent as Labour claim.

Directors could intervene locally in all state schools, including free schools, faith schools and academies and could permit new schools to open, though groups including faith, state, and free schools wishing to open an establishment would have to compete on the basis of quality and cost effectiveness.

This idea is a weak response to the current situation and shows that Labour is not committed to reversing the attack on Local Authorities, many of which are already so weakened that they would almost need reconstituting from scratch. Yet their previous roles in advising, supporting and inspecting schools and planning for the needs of their locality are more necessary now then ever before.

Nor is Labour interested in getting rid of academies (instituted by them in the first place) and free schools, both of which are the precursors to ‘for profit’ education and part of a plan which includes getting rid of teachers’ national pay and conditions and weakening the unions, who have yet to organise a coordinated challenge to government plans.

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