An open letter to Nicky Morgan, from a parent
I have been reading your interview with the Guardian on Friday, and I'm concerned and not a little bit angry. Many of the views you expressed in your interview, and the related proposals in your recent White Paper, don't make sense to me as a parent.
Along with millions of others in England, I'm both a parent of school-aged children and a taxpayer. I therefore have not just a personal interest in my children's education but a vested interest in the whole system working effectively. In contrast you seem to think of us parents as passive bystanders about what happens in our schools. I am sure you, as a parent, would consider yourself to have the skills required to be an effective governor, and thus an interest in school structures. This is true for me, and for all the parents I know who are governors. So I'm unsure why you are seeking to antagonise parents across the country by suggesting otherwise. It's hard to escape the conclusion that you are mostly concerned with removing power from local people.
I have been a school governor (not, as it happens, a parent-governor), so I know from personal experience that even a few years ago, governors were expected to be able to accommodate and interpret large volumes of data and complex policy detail and still be good communicators and ambassadors for their school. I also know that at times, parents in general can have unrealistic expectations of schools (and schooling) or just be downright annoying. But we also have an emotional investment in our local schools which is, for example, what motivates parent school associations to raise thousands across the country to complement educational provision and to help with reading in the classroom - signs of a collaborative relationship which I would have expected you to support.
In your plans you to force all schools to become academies, you suggest that neither parents nor the local authority should retain any formal relationship with our schools. But if you remove us from formal involvement in our schools, how do you expect us to feel sufficiently invested in the system to retain these informal support mechanisms? Furthermore, you seem to be expecting the local authority, stripped of all responsibility, power or resources for overseeing our local schools, to bounce back from such a hammering so that it can actively "champion the rights of parents" (your words not mine). I would really appreciate an explanation of how this is going to work in practice, and what difference it will make either to parents or to schools. (Incidentally, I understand that one of your proposals is to pay some governors. Why not just carry on paying the local authority to run a service across schools - surely that would be more efficient, and less subject to conflicts of interest?)
My son's secondary school recently became an academy because it became clear that the local authority had retained neither the financial nor human resources to provide an effective school support service. It made the move, presumably having seen the writing on the wall, giving it the freedom at least to choose a local trust which actively seeks to promote collaboration between its schools. But my daughter's primary school is not an academy, nor does it have any reason - or desire - to become one. It is a successful local school, rated outstanding, and with firm roots in our local community and widespread participation in music and sports - the kind of activities that make our children's experience of school positive instead of it an endless battery of tests. (Believe me, this positive experience is important; my daughter finds the tests very stressful even though she's pretty good at them). Her school is already free to make effective choices about how it budgets for and teaches the personal, literacy, mathematical and enquiring skills that children need to be equipped with on leaving primary school. As a parent, I like the choices my daughter's school makes now. What benefits do you anticipate would flow from forcing her school down a path it clearly doesn't need?
I imagine that both of these schools would appreciate the increase in funding that would result from the fair funding proposals in the White Paper, as Suffolk is one of the 40 lowest funded authorities (per pupil). But in seeking to implement this proposal without addressing the funding gap, you are simply proposing to drag down schools elsewhere to increase the funding for mine, and set groups of us parents against each-other. As antagonistic practices go, it is exceeded only by the statement that really made me angry in your Guardian interview, and which seems to have given you licence to pursue the plans in your White Paper: apparently we parents are insufficiently interested in education for it to be a campaign issue. Apparently we just don't care enough. Really? And that's why the forced academisation of schools wasn't in the Conservative Manifesto? That's a very scary statement for a government to make - and doesn't exactly sound rooted in the kind of empirical evidence you apparently want to see underpinning our education system.
In producing a manifesto and choosing what to talk about on national media you have plenty of opportunities to influence those doorstep conversations. It speaks volumes about how you view the electorate that you chose not to indicate what you were planning to do you our schools, and our school system, in the election campaign. You feared the outcome if people had know the plans - rather like those NHS 'reforms' that were denied and lied about in the 2010 campaign.
We parents are emotionally invested in our children's education, but we are not stupid, blinkered or unreasonable. Your communications have done nothing to explain why you are keener to pursue an ideological change, with no clear benefits to our education system, than to support the system and its users to pursue a rounded, meaningful and useful education for our children. I can't tell if you intentionally set out to antagonise parents with your proposals or whether we are just collateral damage. Either way, you are setting us up to fight (alongside teachers and school leaders) for the resources and organisational structures that can most efficiently, fairly and effectively make that education happen. If that's what you want, you're on.
This letter was first published on emmabishton.wordpress.com