A strong and civilised society should educate their children together.

Joanne Nathan's picture
I am the product of a family who believed strongly for the right of parents to privately educate their children. Up until recently I believed that I would exercise that right myself for my own children.

But I have now witnessed the unedifying spectacle of many middle class parents in my local state primary school trying to exit the state sector for the private whilst maintaing their self respect and left wing credentials.

They pay lip service to the idea of a 'big society' whilst always looking for ways to step back or separate themselves from it.

I want to be bold and embrace the idea of schooling my children with the people I live with no matter what their class, religion or financial circumstance because I believe that to be the way to creating a society that is dynamic and progressive not stagnate and regressive.
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Francis Gilbert's picture
Wed, 16/02/2011 - 15:30

This is a decision my wife and I have made, after having a miserable experience of sending our child to a private school. He's now at local primary, mixing with the whole community, and he's thriving, and looking forward to going to the much-improved local comp! You're quite right!

Nigel Ford's picture
Wed, 16/02/2011 - 20:38

So why are these people who have originally chosen state education for their children leaving in droves? Are they trying to compete with each other? Is the school selling their kids short? It would be interesting if you could elaborate.

Joanne Nathan's picture
Wed, 16/02/2011 - 23:47

Nigel the reasons I am given are varied but are all driven by fear. Some feel that their children are academically gifted and that the local comprehensive will not be able to provide a sufficiently demanding or rigorous curriculum for their prodigy. Others look at the statistics and simply decide that they want to send their kids to a school that gets closer to 80% grades A-C GCSE's not 50% with little thought of the selection processes at work. Others read the Sutton reports and feel that buying a private education for their child will ensure them a top job in the higher echelons of British society and a peer group of friends with good connections and lovely holiday homes!
Why has this happened in this country? My husband is French and is perplexed by our education system and our obsession with private education. In Paris he tells me that all the best schools are state run, is this true?

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 17/02/2011 - 05:10

I would guess they are not prepared to risk the chances of their children in schools they perceive as inadequate. It's a respectable thing to put your child in to a state school which one considers to be lacking in some manner and work to improve it. But nobody should be insisting that anybody does this.

When this website states, "That is why we believe in the good local school" I would paraphrase my understanding of this based on the rest of what I have read on this website for secondary schools as, "Your child will be told where to go by your local authority, which will be to a form of comprehensive school which ignores your parental preferences for spiritual, academic and vocational development".

This totalitarian approach which rejects parents is what I think the coalition's policies are addressed at fixing. We all agree that people want good local schools, I think the website authors need to think about what dynamic system can achieve this in an equitable way.

Free schools and academies are means of pushing power down to the people at the teeth end such as the parents and teachers. Over time the ability of people to choose will raise the bar all round. I think these structures can lead to different kinds of classes, faiths, races and whatever other kind of labelled person we might choose to speak about, cooperating in organising their local schools. It would be nice to see some humility in trusting people to do this rather than seeking to enforce systems on them.

It is right to consider how structural inequity must be avoided in admissions but this does not mean there is only one mechanism to avoid this consisting of compulsory attendance at local schools.

Nigel Ford's picture
Thu, 17/02/2011 - 08:45

There seems to be an establishment agenda to rubbish existing state schools with the gov't actively promoting academies/free schools as the only escape route, recent BBC programmes like "posh and posher" and "who get's Britain's best jobs" stating (inaccurately) that since the demise of grammar schools the only way to succeed professionally is by going private and then we have bloggers in the press who seem to have a vested interest in denigrating the comprehensive sector.

My sister and her family lives in France, near Marseilles, and she says the only private schools tend to be those of a religous denomination (Catholic) and even they are partially funded by the state.

Stick with the state system, preferably the local schools, like me despite being privately educated, as not only will you save £thousands but your childrens' academic outcomes won't be adversly affected (my 2 eldest kids, aged 27 and 26, both attained far better A'level grades than Eton educated Prince Harry) and they will also receive a far better social development than in private schools.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 17/02/2011 - 10:11

Ben Taylor says that free schools and academies are ways of putting power into the hands of teachers and parents.

In a maintained school there is a balance of places for key “stakeholders”, particularly elected parents, who make up a third of the governing body, staff governors, and representatives of the local community and the local authority.

In an academy, the external sponsor or Trust appoints the majority of governors. Academies are only obliged to have two parent governors and there is no legal requirement for a teacher or staff governor . Parental and teacher power is, therefore, much reduced.

It would be encouraging to believe that local schools, released from LEA control, would all co-operate. Unfortunately, I do not think this would be the case as schools would be competing with each other for the 'best' students on whose results their league table position depends.

The Centre for Economic Performance warned in July 2010 (before the Academies and Free Schools Bill was rushed through Parliament):

"If it chooses to follow the expression of interest route, the new coalition governments’ policy on Academy Schools is, not like the previous government's policy, targeted at schools with more disadvantaged pupils. The serious worry that follows is that this will exacerbate already existing educational inequalities.”


Free schools will have the same structure as Academies outlined above. Power is in the hands of the sponsors who, however committed and well-meaning, enjoy a greater influence on their Governing Bodies than is allowed in LEA maintained schools. Giving this much control to sponsors who are not democratically accountable is worrying.

Sarah Dobbs's picture
Thu, 17/02/2011 - 11:44

I agree with all that Janet mentions above, and would like to point out to Ben that the form of governance of academies and free schools is the antithesis of the Big Society. It means less power to community stakeholders, governors and a centralisation of control back to Whitehall.

Renzo Marchini's picture
Thu, 17/02/2011 - 15:53

I agree with Janet. I am a parent governor at a state primary school where at our meeting last night we began some information gathering on whether to convert to academy status. We are open to hearing the advantages, but I detect no real desire from anyone - most of whom parents and staff are happy to be part of the local community.

We were talked through some of the Government materials on becomming an academy and the presenter indicated that there would be more flexibility on curriculum matters. However, from our initial discussion around it that statement did not seem to stack up. The National Curriculum would apply whether LA maintained or whether an academy, and outside of that curriculum either school can do what it wishes (within reason of course).

Joseph Makin's picture
Thu, 17/02/2011 - 17:01

Like Joanne I too am seeing many (but not quite all) of the middle class parents at my child's school leave the state sector at secondary level; normally, by leaving for the suburbs or a home county with selective education. As well as the reasons Joanne mentions others which I have come across are a fear of gangs and bullying and general ill-discipline. None of this is necessarily borne out by the local state schools, but the fear is there sufficiently strongly for some not even to go and visit the schools. It doesn't help when the local academy's ofsted report mentions discipline as an issue.

There is also the fear of being alone or at least amongst a very small number (amongst your middle class peers anyway): all the others have gone, shouldn't I go too.... and whilst I applaud Joanne for being bold, this is one I think I may eventually also succumb to.

Andy Smithers's picture
Thu, 17/02/2011 - 19:57

It is also true in my area. The reasons given are that generally the local state schools do not give a strong enough academic education for their children.
This is a two way street, as well as middle class parents choosing to send their children to the local comp, the local schools need to improve. Quoting value add statistics to most parents are meaningless, they will choose schools with a strong, traditional academic records.
So local schools need to up their games and improve their records and meet the expectations of parents. It is after all why we all pay our taxes.
It is simply not good enough to blame middle class parents.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 18/02/2011 - 10:40

Data released yesterday showed that most of the surplus places in secondary school are in schools with a low number of pupils gaining GCSEs A*-C.

Supporters of Mr Gove say that this proves that free schools are needed in areas with "poor performing" schools in order to improve education in that area.

Parents are choosing schools based on academic performance which seems entirely reasonable. But this ignores the fact that many of the "poor performing" schools have their intake skewed towards the bottom end of the ability range. They are then stuck in a cycle of decline - parents choose other schools with a higher academic record and the school becomes more unpopular. At the same time the school is pilloried for being near the bottom of the league tables which puts off even more parents.

If such schools try to "up their game" by introducing vocational qualifications they are damned again because they offer "Mickey Mouse" qualifications.

So, if the answer is to allow a free school near a "poor performing" secondary, will the free school take the entire intake of that school? If not, then how is the existence of yet another local school in competition with the existing school really supposed to improve the record of the struggling school?

Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 18/02/2011 - 10:55

If the WLFS parents spent even a tenth of their energies on supporting their local secondary, they'd not only be doing their children a favour but the WHOLE communtiy.

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