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.