I have spent the best part of the day wondering why I get so angry when I read statements, as I did yesterday, that supporting local schools, opposing free schools and academies, pleading for inclusive, non-selective schools and favouring the teaching of a wide and varied academic, citizenship and vocational curriculum means you are “against” aspiration. Such accusations are intended to make you appear both mean-spirited - in thrall to the ideology of “dumbing down”, of having no ambition for your own children, of “celebrating mediocrity” – and, at the other end of the spectrum, elitist in the pursuit of stamping out social mobility by preventing working class or middle class children from aspiring to a better future via a free school or Academy.
But such finger pointing is calculated to mask the true intentions of the right wing – segregation by aspiration. Gove is too fearful to come clean and rubber stamp outright selection by re-creating grammar schools, preferring instead to appeal to the ambitions of parents by creating the impression that the new alternatives of state education - free schools, academies - will separate the wheat from the chaff, or the grammars from the secondary moderns, in all but name. Throw in the news stories that private schools are clamouring to become Academies or at the very least “advising” and “engaging” with them and it is easy to see how the government and the right wing are drawing on the perceived superiority of the educational institutions of the privileged to appeal to parents who want the best state education for their children.
Covert selection by faith schools has always pandered to the belief amongst the middle classes that they perform better and have less “difficult” children to contend with, so it is no surprise that faith schools make up such a large proportion of free schools. No surprise either that Toby Young announced that WLFS was in partnership with the London Oratory, who clearly have some association with him, despite telling parents that they have no partnership so who is not telling the truth here? Confusion seems to be the order of the day, but presented and rehashed as democratic “choice” and “variety”. It is all so cynical, that it is akin to leading lambs to the slaughter.
The obsession with results, tables and performance related scrutiny of teachers in American Charter Schools has resulted in them being ruthless in finding ways to exclude students who don’t succeed to the prescribed standards or toe the school line. The perceived success of KIPP schools has come at the shocking price of the high drop out rates of young black males. Where once there was aspiration, now dashed hopes, a sense of official failure and a return to a place where, cruelly, you have been told the grass is most definitely not greener.
Enabling segregation by aspiration it at it’s most toxic when it comes to the wholesale trashing of comprehensive schools – low academic standards, unruly behaviour, indoctrination by teachers, distortion of PISA data, abolition of BSF. But much objective research has shown that, overall, standards have risen over 20 years. In any case – isn’t the real aim of aspiration to raise standards and give life opportunities to ALL children, all of the time? That is not what the government is doing and it is not what the right wing or those rabidly in favour of academic selection want. They want segregation because it is elitist and self serving.
I can’t help concluding, cynically perhaps, that the much promised, very delayed revised Admissions Code is being held up because of the need to endlessly re-write, to leave rules and regulations ambiguous and open to interpretation and loopholes, to allow covert selection, to reduce the choices and rob the voices of parents. Will it suddenly appear in the dead months of the summer, sneaked in without anyone noticing and too late for anyone to do anything about it?
Social mobility sounds great. Accessible to all, something we and our children can aspire to. But in reality the present coalition government’s policies across the board are designed to favour an unfair division of wealth and resources. Segregation is slowly and insidiously embedding itself into our society and into our schools. Those who really believe in aspiration for all should stop feeling angry, stand up, be counted and oppose government policy.