Stories + Views

Avatar Image

parent

Posted on

06/05/11

go to 3 comments

There is another way

Amidst all the speculation about mass “academisation” , fears about the fragmentation of our education system and creeping privatisation of schools, here is a different and, I believe, important approach.

The London Borough of Camden, where I live and have been a local school parent and governor for over 20 years, faces a number of threats.It lost its BSF funding at the 11th hour last summer and is unlikely receive anything like the same opportunities to invest in the fabric of its school buildings. Revenue funding is under severe pressure, there are several free schools bids and pressure on primary school places, a new Labour academy is opening next year, although none of the existing schools have yet converted to the new Tory academies. There are also the proposed national changes to the curriculum coming down the track, uncertainty about where vocational and practical subjects will fit in to the secondary schools offer, as well as changes to school accountability like the E Bacc.

Camden has an interesting education history in London. Divided up into areas of great poverty and great wealth, with over a quarter of pupils going into the private sector, its schools have remained popular on the whole over the last 30 years. Many are judged good or outstanding, most have a good comprehensive mix with supportive very local parents. None of its secondaries is below the government floor targets or in special measures and nearly all the primaries are heavily oversubscribed. By and large, schools work well together, often in collaborative arrangements.

But instead of just caving in to the new Tory Lib Dem agenda and to particular parent groups, which appears to be the case in other London boroughs, Camden is attempting to start a conversation with all its parents, schools and governors to find out what sort of education system they want to see in the future , what their schools’ relationships with the local authority should be, and how we can try and build that system together in the face of a changing national policies. It has launched this Commission to be chaired by Sir Mike Tomlinson, whose own ground breaking report into 14-19 education was (mistakenly in my view) abandoned by the Labour government, it will take evidence from all members of the community over a six month period and make recommendations.

I am sure there will be differences of opinion. Pressure points will undoubtedly be the school choices available to some parents, but there will also be many who are happy with what is on offer. I suspect the issue of faith school admissions, especially in the primary sector, will need to be addressed, and there may be divisions over how we share out limited resources fairly, what sort of subjects we want our schools to teach, what sort of support  and resources the local authority can, and should, provide to existing schools and whether it should also give resources to parents and outside organisations who want to set up free schools in the area, often seeking local authority land on which to do this.

However, surely it is much better to have these discussions openly and honestly, with information and and opinions from all sides put into the public domain, rather than having decisions taken behind closed doors, either in the Town Hall , or Whitehall, or listening to some vocal and powerful groups, at the expense of others. People may choose not to take part, but no one can say that they weren’t given a chance to contribute to the future of their local school system in a fair and democratic manner.

 

 

Share this page:

Enter your email address to receive notifications of all new posts by email.

Join 178 other subscribers

Comments, replies and queries

  1. An excellent piece highlighting an alternative to the mass “academisation” of our schools. Rigorous engagement with parents creates the ‘tough love’ educational partnership that is critical to the success of any school.

  2. Camden seem to be taking a sensible, step-by-step approach; possibly a model for other LAs to follow?

  3. Tokyo Nambu says:

    “However, surely it is much better to have these discussions openly and honestly, with information and and opinions from all sides put into the public domain, rather than having decisions taken behind closed doors, either in the Town Hall , or Whitehall, or listening to some vocal and powerful groups, at the expense of others. People may choose not to take part, but no one can say that they weren’t given a chance to contribute to the future of their local school system in a fair and democratic manner.”

    That’s all true, and I would applaud Camden’s policy (and I’d like to see it here, although as Birmingham is Europe’s largest metropolitan authority there are some practical problems).

    But I think you’re being slightly disingenuous over the resistance of such a scheme to concerted lobbying. Decisions are taken by those that turn up, and “vocal and powerful groups” tend to have a better record of making effective interventions into decision-taking processes than random by-standers. The ability to mobilise blocs of support is what has made “community leaders” the baleful influence they are, and anyone who has got involved in government consultation exercises will know that the responses you can make as a private individual are unlikely to be as convincing as those made by larger organisations with research and lobbying skills. Indeed, an acquaintance of mine makes his living as a consultant for such exercises, hiring himself out to organisations that want to make effective submissions to governments and Quangos.

    Individual submissions tend to be fragmented, and individuals can only turn up to the meetings they know about and can get baby-sitters for. We went through all this over ID Cards, RIPA and other things I was involved in: unless you organise, the individual has for practical purposes no voice. That’s the power of the ballot-box, but voting in local elections is a blunt weapon for education policy.

    I don’t know the answer, but I’d suggest that organised faith groups, for example, will wield disproportionate power, by being well-resourced, and then able to invoke claims of the size of their “community” to bolster their position.

Want to follow comments on this post? Use the RSS feed or subscribe below

Reply


9 − 4 =