Changing the present system means understanding how we got to where we are and not starting from a blank sheet.

David Pavett's picture
I am concerned at what seems to me to be the paucity of informed and intelligent discussion of education by people who want to see state education act as a means of transforming and enhancing the lives of everyone who experiences it.

The Conservatives have a simple and clear philosophy: education is about shopping around to get the best for your children. All their reforms have the aim of supporting that objective. In other words they see education in individualistic terms and not as a social enterprise in which we are all committed to do the best for all our children.

This simplistic philosophy has direct appeal in the absence of a coherent and forcefully argued for alternative. Unfortunately such an alternative is not supplied by either the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats who tend to move within the slipstreams produced by the Conservatives ideological positions and practical reforms.
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Ian Taylor's picture
Sun, 23/10/2011 - 13:23

I totally agree with you David.

I am beginning to wonder whether politicians stand for anything other than getting themselves elected. Where are the strongly held principles?

Do Labour politicians have any strong views on the education system in the UK? Perhaps they do but are too scared to speak out. Has Ed Miliband instructed them to have no policies whatsover on anything? I really do not know.
Do they all get sucked into the Werrity style culture of only responding to secret paid lobbyists? Are they scared of the predominantly right wing media? There seems to be no Social Democratic political view expressed on anything at the moment. There seem to be no policies from Labour. Silence to me gives the impression that they agree with what the Tories are doing.

I cannot believe that you and I are the only ones that feel like this. If there were politicians willing to speak up, I would vote for them.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sun, 23/10/2011 - 21:07

Hello David,

The kind of thinking you are looking for does exist.
It clearly states that the kind of thinking which Michael Gove has suddenly decided to apply to UK state education is only suitable for education systems where there is incomplete state coverage.

In order to work efficiently complete systems of state education gravitate towards an equilibrium where appropriate decisions are made at the level of the individual student, the class, the school, the local area and the nation. The theory of the economics of state education states very clearly that:
"Changing the present system means understanding how we got to where we are and not starting from a blank sheet."

Here's a beginners guide if you're interested - - but it seems you've got a reasonable amount of appropriate insight already.

So for decades your title to this thread has been clearly established in thinking about education.

And then Michael Gove came along.

There is plenty of intelligent discussion going on David, it's just that Gove has systematically ignored and sidelined the people who are involved in it.

It's absolutely clearly established in the history of thinking about education the costs associated with switching to a free market system will be astronomical and the eventual benefits small if any. Anyone who has any credibly experience in education planning understands this as has anyone who's studied the discipline.

But what can we do - how can we be heard? Gove only listens to people who tell him what he wants to hear. He's surrounded himself with people who absolutely believe that the best way to write policy is to trial soundbite headlines with Daily Mail readers and see which headlines get the best response, all of whom seem to be united by their extraordinary lack of any life experience, let alone any experience in education (except for recent experience as pupils).

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 25/10/2011 - 11:17

Users of local authority funded social care are often able to exercise a statutory right to receive direct payment. The user can then arrrange and pay for social support of their choosing instead of taking the normatively choosen service of the local authority.

To understand how we got to this system you would need to talk to the social services users, frequently people with learning difficulty, disability etc. to see why they preffered to organise their own care rather than take the local authority version.

I think this can help us understand what is happening with schools.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 25/10/2011 - 16:04

What on earth has this comment got to do with the original post or the other comments arising from it?

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 25/10/2011 - 17:14

"Changing the present system means understanding how we got to where we are and not starting from a blank sheet."

We can look at the situation in other state funded services to understand what is happening now in education.

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 25/10/2011 - 18:53

Much better to see how the implementation of state education was set up in 1944 and how the divisions, selection and class lines were drawn right from the beginning. Henceforth, successive governments, were either too hesitant to re-draw the lines from scratch or were happy to keep the status quo. As a rule of thumb, Ben, Labour tended to provide much more funds were public services including education in order to encourage a more cohesive society; the Tories did their level best to privatise public services which disadvantaged the poor. The economic collapse of 2008 proved that the private sector can't be trusted to deliver education and other essential public services that our taxes are supposed to be paying for.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 26/10/2011 - 15:53

"successive governments, were either too hesitant to re-draw the lines from scratch or were happy to keep the status quo"

That wasn't always true. On good days (usually when they'd been in power for a while and had learned from their mistakes) they did their best to evolve and improve education in ways which understood both the realites of the present and the reasons for the status quo which is, of course, the only effective way to improve efficacy and efficiency.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 25/10/2011 - 21:04

Put simply the reforms going on in education now will help parents and children put schools to account. You don't increase accountability by reducing choice.

Keith Turvey's picture
Tue, 25/10/2011 - 22:09

But what evidence would you give that you increase accountability by increasing choice?

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 25/10/2011 - 22:30


There were plenty of banks and other financial services providers who offered a vast array of choice when they came with the promises of riches only the free market could provide and look what happened there. Half the world's nations plunged into debt and governments like ours unable to dig itself out because it still cannot bring itself to regulate and tax the very institutions that brought about this mess.

Who is proposing reducing choice in schools? It is only the coalition's fools gold which conjures up a chimera of "choice". Why don't you do yourself a favour and see how these "reforms" offering "choice" have done nothing of the sort in countries like Sweden and America, where new schools are as likely to be bad or good, like the old ones they either replaced or stand alongside? Where is the proof that these reforms have worked, justifying the chaos not to mention the money they have wasted?

The evidence, Ben, is that accountability in countries like the US has led to widespread cheating in the classroom to hit targets, to entire class years being excluded because the head of the charter chain has deemed the school's - as opposed to the student's - success is compromised because of too many low attaining students in a single year (anathema to the philanthropists who sit on the school's boards). Accountability? Where is accountability when authorizers are finding it more and more difficult to close school because of political resistance, thus ensuring that bad schools get worse? Where is the proper enforcement of accountability in American charters when boards and entire states have had to take legal action against the companies contracted to run their schools when they have actually made them worse? At least in Britain, we had Ofsted, the schools commissioner and local authorities who acted as the middle layer to ensure the accountability you do not even know existed. We now have a schools commissioner who is a political appointment only interested in Academies and Free Schools; a new head of Ofsted close to Gove and a Director of Ark Education - and a neutering of local authorities ("good" and "bad") meaning that parents with grievances about their school have no impartial body to go to and are now prey only to the whims of the governing body of an Academy and its chain or to the inefficiency and deceit of the current politicians ensconced within the DfE.

Accountability? When a Gove adviser tells civil servants they will not get any FoI requests about Free Schools from anyone, when the New Schools Network propagates a web of lies to prop up the myth of the guaranteed success of Free Schools, when Michael Gove and Nick Gibbs misrepresent fact after report to bolster up their increasingly desperate attempts to sell us the value of a fractured and overly competitive schools system?

Accountability? What hope accountability when the government will still not release the contents of Funding Agreements, when they play fast and loose with admissions criteria for Free Schools? What sort of accountability can we expect when budgets are top sliced off maintained schools to fund the new schools you are so fond of?

The free market is on target to ruin the National Health Service. It is this government's end game to privatise education and they are using the terminology of the unfettered free market to promote this - "choice", "accountability", "standards", "demand". What we will be left with, is good schools for the deserving and bad schools for the undeserving - a polarisation giving ultimate choice to the selected few whilst increasing the sense of alienation amongst the poor to whom the ruling class no longer feel they have to account for anything at all.

Ben Taylor's picture
Wed, 26/10/2011 - 03:45


It's a fair point that the banks messed up big time, and also that governments did not regulate well, but the choice and competition we have had up to now has helped make us the 7th richest country in the world. They need to figure out how to let bad banks fail just like the bad schools.

Regarding the NHS take a look at Europe where most countries comparable to ours run mixed models where provision is often private but the funds are socialised bodies funded from mandatory tax contributions. Patients have more choice about where they are treated. It depends what you mean by privatisation. Where the government is regulating and redistributing it is never going to be completely privatised.

Let's increase the accountability of this country by sticking with our existing government. Why do we need to choose different parties than Conservative and Lib Dem? Let's increase accountability by closing all the other parties. I look forward to seeing this website close since the DFE website is obviously correct about everything it says, we don't need the choice of opinions here to increase accountability in any way,

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 26/10/2011 - 07:26

Ben - accountability is more than increasing choice. Accountability is when those who are given authority to provide a service (in this case, education) have to account for what they are doing with this delegated authority. There are many ways in which school systems are made accountable. These include, national examinations, national assessments, regulatory accountability (ie complying with the law), school inspection and market accountability.

According the the OECD, "market accountability, which refers to the competitive pressures on schools, varies considerably across countries. While most countries permit diverse forms of school choice, in practice, the proportion of students practising choice is more limited." OECD also found that the evidence about the effect of user choice on educational outcomes was mixed - some high-performing countries offer little choice. (access limited)

Ben Taylor's picture
Wed, 26/10/2011 - 11:03

The ability of parents to make teachers, particularly heads, account for what they are doing is far greater when they can move their children more easily. It is much easier to access this for the average person than traditional methods such as writing letters to councillors or the LEA.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 26/10/2011 - 16:07

Ben this sounds plausible but it is just not true.

Accountability of public services was examined in great detail during the Hampton review and the principles of effective and proper accountability which it defined were embodied in the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act (2006) to which Ofsted became legally obligated in late 2009. Now unfortunately Ofsted has so far chosen to ignore and systematically misrepresent its obligations according to the law Michael Gove has chosen not to oblige Ofsted to behave within the law as the purpose of the law is to stop a regulatory body forcing organisations to pursue narrow and counterproductive objectives imposed from outside, so that doesn't suit him.

However should we get a decent SoS for Education at some stage, implementation of this law should require schools to provide much more detailed descriptions of aspects of their provision and of their processes for continuous consultation and quality improvement and it is by having access to both this detailed information and the processes by which things can be changed that parents can more effectively force change and/or make coherent decisions regarding which school to choose for their child's needs where choice is possible.

The rapid movement of children from school to school makes it very difficult for schools to improve rapidly and effectively as the processes of dealing with sudden fluctuations in student numbers absorb the attention and energy of school management systems and distract them from the development and implementation of improvement programs.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 26/10/2011 - 11:42

It's only possible for parents to move their children from school to school if they live in large towns or cities, and even then it's difficult unless there is spare capacity. For parents that live in rural areas where the nearest school could be miles away and the LA only funds transport to the nearest or catchment school then moving from one school to another is difficult if not impossible. It's much better to advocate a good local school for all children.

And as I posted above, there are many other ways of making schools accountable.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 26/10/2011 - 13:48

The prospect of having to move a child from a school fills most parents with dread. It is stressful, uncertain, disruptive for the child and as far removed from a coldly calculated decision to switch from one supermarket to another as you can get so I fail to see how any rational or caring person can see this as an easy decision.

Schools are made accountable when the appropriate legislation is applicable in the same way, across the boards, to all schools. The problem we have now is that accountability is being removed from bodies that exist to investigate the complaints of parents and is being administered by central government, which to date has shown itself to be less than transparent about their schools policy. This does not inspire confidence that they will deal effectively or even fairly with accountability.

I still find it astounding that people who support free markets in schools have swallowed the lie that all LAs have all failed to deliver good public services like education. But then they are the same people who swallowed the lie that was "Waiting for Superman"

Ben Taylor's picture
Wed, 26/10/2011 - 17:00

I don't disagree that the regulatory organisation is less than perfect, but you try and make a good argument for forcing children to be in particular schools against parents' wishes. Is it not obvious that this grates? You want to accumulate power to the professions against individual parents/families. Where is the power and the capital in such a relationship? It's not with the parents. It should be shared.

Maybe the changes are not perfect but they surely change the power to give more back to parents. And dynamic equilibirum is what we are after not everbody moving each go.

Keith Turvey's picture
Wed, 26/10/2011 - 19:05

I'm all for utilising the socio-cultural capital within communities and families in the education of children but there is an immense amount of capital within the professional education community. Yes it should be shared and teachers like surgeons or any other professional need to be held accountable. However your vague idea that 'handing power back to parents' will create some kind of 'dynamic equilibrium' and by implication solve some of the issues is naive.

I am a parent of two children at a state school. If I am unhappy with some aspect of their education I will make this known to their teacher, senior management. If I was so unhappy and got no redress through these avenues then I can make an official complaint to the LA and also raise the issue with my local councillor or Ofsted. There are clear avenues of accountability giving parents plenty of power should they need to exercise it. Free Schools and Academies are being given more and more autonomy from local and national structures of accountability. This means less power to parents. The more Free Schools or Academies become run by multinational chains etc., like has happened in Sweden the less real power parents will have. I just don't understand where your evidence for more choice = more accountability comes from Ben?

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 26/10/2011 - 23:03

I don't see how you reach the conclusion that I want power to be accumulated with the professions at the expense of parents. What professions are you talking about? The dynamic equilibrium you speak of is possible when school management teams, governors, teachers, local authorities, parents and the community all collaborate to maintain, develop and improve a school.

Such equilibrium, however, is currently weighted very much in favour of central government who pretend to be releasing LAs from bureaucratic red tape and "meddling" in an effort to blame them for what they wish to portray as a completely broken schools system. What they are actually doing is removing mechanisms for accountability and leaving parents completely vulnerable and impotent when they need to take issue with some aspect of the school. This neither empowers parents nor increases choice.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 26/10/2011 - 18:37

Hmmm, an interesting comment. I'll try and pull out three things which occur to me off the back of that.

Thought one is that you seem to be assuming that substantial freedom of choice is possible in a state education system which has to have complete coverage for the most vulnerable. Totally free markets are not effective when there are substantial restrictions in location and when there is required to be complete coverage, both of which are hugely significant factors in education. I am in favour of freedom of choice to the extent that this can be achieved without the sudden substantial swings in numbers which generate pernicious sink schools or force the closure of schools which should cleary exist due to demographics. Schools have specific cultures and a reasonable amount of freedom of choice allows schools with contrasting cultures to evolve and for there to be sensible movement of students who are not thriving in one culture for a fresh start. It's also good for schools to have different specialism and for students to move to pursue their strengths. Such issues can be coherently planned for without causing serious negative effects.

Thought 2: But what about movement beyond that?
If a school is having problems should parents move their kids out or should they stay around and ensure those problems are sorted out? I can understand the emotional desire of the individual parent to pull their child out of such a situation - I am a parent too - but the forensic arguments for them to do so are not strong even at the level of the individual student - let alone when you consider the holistic situation. Yes it's obvious that this grates. What's not obvious is that that grating should be reduced by encouraging parents to mover their children straight away. To do so may well neglect the benefits to the students of being part of their natural community, overstate the problems of a moderate amount of disruption in a child's education and underestimate the issues associated with changing a child's school. Where parents are strongly motivated not to put their child in a local school that's often an indication that the local school is a failing school. Would it be so if there had not been a flight of students?

Thought 3: is that sometimes parents want to move their children to schools they perceive to be better but that their opinion is questionable. Reading discussion forums throws up all sorts of interesting parental perceptions. What about the parent who wants their child to be in a school the perceive to be highly competitive between individuals because they don't want their child to develop compassion? What about the parent who doesn't want their child mixing with children of other ethnic groups because they are racist? What about a school which has excellent systems for teaching which are not always transparently obvious to parents who may have a particular image of what they consider to be an excellent education? Sometimes it's right to challenge what parents want and to make issues 'grate'. Such grating can lead to deeper understanding emerging and the parent resolving their issues and becoming content with what is on offer locally for their child instead of their initial prejudices remaining unchallenged.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 06:14

Keith writes:

"However your vague idea that ‘handing power back to parents’ will create some kind of ‘dynamic equilibrium’ and by implication solve some of the issues is naive."

I would ask if it is naive that you have the ability to consent to medical treatment (assuming you have mental capacity)? You have the right to choose a GP. Are these naive freedoms?

Is it naive that the police follow Peel's principles such as willing co-operation of the public and public approval?

What I am getting at is that our society delivers as much as possible its services through consent. This desire to use an authoritarian approach to school choice by removing it, as though choosing a school is equivalent to smoking in an enclosed public space, it's just ludicrous.

I will agree with Allan that the accountability structure needs some work, but I doubt that returning to the local authority as the source will be the solution. I just don't think our elected governments local and national are the answer, we need to think of something new.

Rebecca you make some good points, I hope that these can be addressed increasingly by schools working with their local families through consensual processes. There is a difficulty with private individuals since they can hold beliefs which are fickle, they are entitled to some extent to do so, whereas public authorities can't do this. I think we lack a baseline of values to reference our schools to these days, we don't agree as a society what we believe in common so much, but is the solution to remove school choice?
This seems to indicate a huge lack of confidence and ability to cope in what is being offered to parents and children. Maybe some factors such as class divide, immigration and other cultural conflict are causing such a national emergency that school choice has to be limited as the remedy. If so the opponents of school choice including LSN need another kind of discourse which we are not currently hearing.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 07:39

Re: choosing a GP

Are these naive freedoms Ben? No they are pragmatic freedoms. They exist to the extent to which they can be accommodated. If you need an urgent doctor's appointment you are unlikely to get much choice.

One substantial aspect of education planning you seem to be totally missing, Ben, is the inevitability of conflict at the level of local planning. People have different perspectives as to the best solution for an area. For this to be the case does not require any self-interested behaviour by parents whatsoever - local planning is exceptionally complex and any single solution will achieve some desirable objective and not achieve others well.

In any planning process there will be many highly justified child-centred solutions but only one solution must be chosen. Students will be sidelined. Dedicated adults which important and relevant skills will be sidelined. Hence it is important that the planning process needs as degree of authority. In the past those involved had come to understand the dynamics of this reality through experience.

Now we have Michael Gove in charge who wants to win votes by taking those who have not achieved what they've wanted through the local planning process and promising it to them directly from him. Is that democratic and in the interests of parents? That the intelligent and consulted solution should be shut down in favour of the loud protesters? There are many protests of unfairness/incompetence by LAs, but as I analyse individual ones on discussion forums, I find they don't generally hold up. I understand why the person discussion them is frustrated and has reasonable cause to feel aggrieved but the evidence of self-interested behaviour or incompetent LAs is rarely there - the former doesn't indicate the latter.

Finally, Ben, you are straw-manning when you are constructing in your mind a group of people who are opposed to freedom of choice. We are a collection of individuals (I don't think I've ever met anyone else who posts here) who are sick of deeply ignorant political interference which makes promises which are conceived in ignorance and with out any test in theory or reality, are totally unrealistic and are suffocating intelligent progression of policy and are taking the time to try to explain reality of education to those who are prepared to try to engage with it.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 08:48

Ben -

What is ludicrous is your baseless argument that supporters of the comprehensive system are propping up an “authoritarian approach to school by removing it” and that LSN opposes school choice? Where do you get this rubbish from?

The opening page of the Local Schools Network makes it crystal clear that the aims of the founders are, amongst other things, to:

i)Campaign for a broad and balanced curriculum to meet the needs of every child
ii)Advocate universal state education, and to see the end of selection by ability
iii)Argue that free schools and academies should be subject to the same public scrutiny as maintained schools.

Campaigning for equal access for every child to a good local school seems to be wholly egalitarian, quite the opposite of authoritarian. What is authoritarian is the government’s fixation on punishing schools, on results driven performance, on removing the powers of local authorities to steward schools in their community, on dividing communities by pitting school against school in direct and hostile competition, on denigrating the teaching profession, on centralising absolute control within the DfE under the hands of the Secretary of State for Education, on removing effective rights to complain and appeal from parents, on enforcing Academization by way of “incentive” or fear, on issuing misleading or deceptive statements to justify its policies.

All this amounts to a withdrawal of freedoms and a narrowing of choice – the government throwing the bone of a handful of free schools educating a teeny tiny minority as an example of increasing choice does nothing to cover up the real issue that, under the “caring Conservative” rhetoric, is an agenda where our democratic freedoms are actually being eroded. Only a fool would fall for this. Or a zealot. I’d like to say I’m struggling to decide which one you are, Ben, but given that you yourself seem to hanker after a conformity of “values to reference our schools to” and a wish for society to bend to an authoritarian prescription of “what we believe in common” I’ll let you ponder over who is confused and dictatorial.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 09:31


I can't follow why state school choice is not pragmatic. It is possible it happens in other countries, people are accommodated. Fiona posted about Alberta in Canada in support of local state schools;

In Alberta there is a very wide choice of schools including state, faith, home schooling, charters (the equivalent of free schools), partially state-funded private schools etc. including even blended learning with home/school. When the prinicpal of a state run school spoke about charter schools (you can find this in the videos linked in Fiona's post) he said his reponse to any opening near his school would be to beat them by being better, he did not seek to oppose their existence. In contrast most of those opposing free schools seem to want to stop them being AT ALL. They do not address WHY people would wish to support a new free school and think about what could happen to change the existing schools in response to such demand.

Like you Rebecca I am frustrated in the political interference in education which seeks to put parents and children in the moral company of the prisoner and the soldier, people not allowed choice in their destiny. The prisoners looses it through an illegal act, the soldier volunteers to give it in exchange for reward and a commitment to defend their country. Perhaps you can make us alike to the soldier, however this is a vision of totalitarian society I don't share, unless of course there is some mitigating national emergency. It needs spelling out if indeed such a circumstance exists.

I take your point about national government interfering with local, but if these local authorities were listening to their population what Gove is doing would be unnecessary. It is a comment on the failure of localism in our government.

I can't see the straw man, you are a group of politically active who seem to be opposed in principle to school choice. If I am wrong please correct me. It is not your right so speak I dispute.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 10:09

As I said in my comment above to you Ben "we" are not a group of "politically active who seem to be opposed to school choice" so you would do yourself a favour by not making yourself appear increasingly more irrational, dogmatic and confused by repeating nonsense in the hope that they will somehow become true.

A totalitarian regime is one that would remove choice and freedoms from its people and one very quick way of doing this is to get rid of local government and bodies such as those stewarding schools and making them accountable to central government who pass laws to restrict accountability. Local authorities DO listen to their local population but they cannot please each and every individual. Good local authorities (and they are in the majority, much as your prejudices would like to tell you otherwise) act for the collective good.

Go and ponder who is confused and dictatorial.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 10:22

Fiona is trying to organise a pulbic campaign to 'save our schools' on a recent thread so who are you trying to kid Allan? She has a perfect right to do so please don't tell me this is not a political act though.

I accepted your point about accountabiliy I am sure we are going to see some changes there. It is not as though there is no substantial law obliging state schools of all sorts to certain duties even though the LA may have less of a role.

Would be nice to see a substantial reply to my point about Alberta which does indeed try to please every individual through a system of schooling we appear to be moving closer towards. Yet you oppose this and say that reducing school choice is not dictatorial.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 11:10

Ben - the link to the discussion re Alberta is given below. To recap the main points:

1 Alberta parents are given choice but the context is very different to that of the UK. Alberta state authorities actively promote their schools. They do not pitch schools against each other as in the UK where Mr Gove praises academies and free schools as being the true "revolutionaries" thereby diminishing the achievements of local authority schools whose very existence has been airbrushed from the DfE website.
2 Most Alberta pupils attend the local school. There is no selection.
3 There is also choice within institutions. Parents can choose between different modes of instruction. Pupils can choose a mixture of practical and academic subjects. Mr Gove praises the latter but downgrades the former (unless it is taught in a University Technical College).
4 There is a strong focus on teaching. Teachers are fully supported with professional development arranged locally. There is collaboration between schools.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 11:50

Once again Ben - "we" are not a political group. This is a forum for anyone to come onto - including you - to comment and debate on schools issues. It is also a forum which does not censor or moderate people's comments, unlike some blogs or sites which don't encourage open debate. There are some sites that would have removed you long ago because they don't find your opinions appealing.

If Fiona Millar wishes to organise a Save our Schools campaign why is this a political act? Why can't people who vote for any of our political parties not be part of a campaign that wants equal access to good state schools for everyone? I am beginning to suspect you are waging a thinly disguised politically motivated campaign yourself.

Janet has replied to your point about Alberta. I would add that you look into the Finnish model, where no selection, no segregation, no private schools, no competition between schools, no endless testing to assess not student needs but to punish schools, high quality teaching and a commitment to egalitarian principles has ensured REAL choice in a capitalist country which has removed all the barriers of myriad fake market "choice" to offer real and consistent high quality education.

Your arguments, as always, are increasingly circular, confused and confusing. I suggest you get off the hamster's wheel and stop kidding yourself Ben

Keith Turvey's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 15:49

Increasing the Market in school choice Ben could actually have the effect of reducing other aspects of education that parents might want to choose for their children. For example a fragmented schools system with smaller schools with competing and sometimes conflicting aims will inevitably mean that to survive, schools will have to carve out their niche in the Market and prioritise certain facilities, subjects, resources etc over others. Such priorities may very likely limit freedom of choice in other areas with the economies of scale.

My children attend a fairly large state secondary school that offers a wealth of opportunities to any of it's pupils wanting to try stuff within the curriculum and beyond. Much of this cultural and intellectual capital available through the school is also supported and shared by the LA.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 16:23

I don't see a problem with schools sharing facilities, organisation and pupils having mixed school provision. Even Toby Young said he would be happy to share premises of a free school with an existing school. One thing I would agree on is for public schools to do more to help nearby state schools IF they have charitable status. Is there not arrangement for state schools to help each other now? The maths dept at Altrincham grammar school helps a struggling comprehensive school in Tameside; these schools are not even in the same LA as far as I can tell. What is to stop free schools and academies collaborating with other schools? Even when at the same time they are trying to be the best they can be?

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 19:54


You might not be able to see a problem with Free Schools sharing buildings and facilities but it has been a massive problem in the the United States, where charters share with public schools. There is nothing to stop Academies and Free Schools collaborating with "other schools" as you put it but its difficult when their existence has been built by slashing budgets from "other schools" and when the government has encouraged schools to be in direct dog-eat-dog competition with each other. Have you been living as a hermit in a cave?

Melissa Benn's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 10:31

Rebecca, I am very interested in the arguments you put forward here, and on the strand I began, about starting another campaign. I take your point about evolution rather than revolution ( on the other strand) - yes, part of the problem in our system has been too much political interference and increasingly, and worryingly, a sidelining of those with real pedagogic knowledge, and much accumulated practical wisdom and knowledge in favour of the highly politicised experts now peddling choice at all cost. The Labour Party seems, for the moment, silent on these issues.
I also agree with all those who say, we need to understand how we have got here: a theme I develop at some length in School Wars. I find it amusing and a little frustrating that Michael Gove goes on about history and the importance of history but has precious little understanding, it seems, of the history of our own state education system.

But as well as developing our analysis of what was, and what needed improving, we need now to look forward and suggest clear alternatives to the fragmentation and choice driven agenda being proposed by Gove and co, and by Ben on this thread. I find it extraordinary, the idea that parents simply 'move their children' when things go wrong. Having seen many parents do this - always the most powerful, in terms of professional or consumer power - there was often considerable regret in the years after - certainly ambivalence, concerning disrupted or damaged relationships, loss of community etc. OR there were unspoken reasons for the original move, as Rebecca suggests, such as a wish for elite peer group, excessive competition, unspoken racism etc that shoudl not figure in considerations of a grown up public service serving all, in our complex society.

Rebecca and others, I suggest we continue these discussions..... I can be contacted via this site, should you wish to do so.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 18:19

I can't work out how to contact you Melissa. I'm very easy to find through if you or anyone else wants to contact me.

Keith Turvey's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 15:31

The naivety here Ben is in the lack of acknowledgement of the complexity and conflicts which Rebecca alludes to below in response. Actually, one does not have absolute choice with regards GPs or even treatment. The Gillick principle is a good example of this in which a teenager was given pregnancy advice against her parents' wishes establishing an important precedent in the medical treatment of minors in such or similar cases. Also my GP could also refuse to treat me or give me access to certain treatments for any number of reasons e.g. Cost of treatment on NHS or professional judgement about the appropriateness of a particular course ofntreatment. I do not have absolute freedom of choice in these matters. If I did I might be wasting valuable NHS resource that could be more effectively used to treat others. An unquestioning adherence to more choice = more accountability is the straw man here.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 16:15


I have described Alberta which offers choice to parents and children and where complexity and conflict appears not to have been an issue as a matter of fact.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 16:12

Thanks Janet. Regarding your points;

1 So the problem is not choice as such, rather the context in which it is offered? So what Gove should do is rather give a more balanced view, rather than not offer new forms of choice? Incidentally maintained schools are now listed again on DfE site, although I agree it was a bad omission in first place.

2. If we have oversubscription we can scrap most selection by allowing schools to expand or we can allow new provision. In the case of grammar schools and secondary moderns I support them as long as the local population want them, and vice versa, which is more than LSN are prepared to offer since you will only agree to abolition rather than also new introduction.

3. Government seems keen to offer new modes of learning; Gove is trashing useless vocational courses which are poor substitute GCSE fodder and which do not really give young people useful skills for jobs, and replacing them with real ones.

4. Collaboration and CPD is a good thing. If it is not happening why not? It is supposed to happen now right?

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 16:57

Ben - there are 20,000+ state schools that are not academies or free schools and this 20,000+ only get a mention. Compare the very boring page about maintained schools which appears after clicking on your link with the page after page after page of stuff about academies and free schools. These include videos, interviews, testimonials and congratulatory puff from Gove and Gibb. The 20,000+ schools, the huge majority, aren't even mentioned on the DfE home page.

What Gove should do is acknowledge the existence of these 20,000+ schools and stop belittling them.

So you support grammar schools and secondary moderns? The parents of the 75% of children in selective areas who do not pass the 11+ might not agree with you.

Ben, you speak about LSN as if it's one entity. It isn't - it's a public forum where people who are passionate about education come and debate. It isn't the first time you've attacked the site in this way. Some time ago you described the site as a "busted flush" because some posters had criticised something that Katharine Birbalsingh had written. As I had posted most of the criticism I asked you to explain which of my comments were "irrational and personal" or not based on textual analysis. You did not reply. A link to the thread is at the bottom of this post.

In my comment about Alberta schools, I said nothing about vocational examinations. I said that pupils could choose to do practical as well as academic subjects - subjects don't have to be examined to be valuable.

Finally, collaboration and professional development is a good thing. However, schools that compete with each other for pupils will not co-operate. With academy chains it's likely that professional development will be kept in-house and only available to other schools, if at all, at a price.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 16:38

Allan I don't really see what the point of replying to these personal comments is since they do not address the issue they are rather attacks on my character.

I was trying to make a point in repsonse to Rebecca's 'thought 3'. Just because society no longer has a consensus about many issues and is to some extent multicultural, that is not a reason to remove school choice, even when you dissaprove of parent's reasoning. Unless that is there is some sort of 'national emergency' which puts the stability of the country at risk, and you want to make us like for example China in terms of restricted freedom.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 17:10

Melissa - I don't know why you are looking to the Labour party to help you, since we already have a government with two different parties in it. Instead you should work to improve this government and these governing parties and increase accountability by removing the choice of different candidates and parties which don't constitute the government. Why attempt to compete? Also we know that in the case of trying to choose, as we can see from discussion of schools above, it is naive, confusing and can not be accommodated even when in other countries it does occur without problem as a matter of fact.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 17:27

Oh Ben - you are funny. Work to improve this government in education? But we have experience in education and children who have gone through state education and so on.

Have you not noticed that Gove has shut down or systematically bypassed all professional routes by which those with experience consult on education policy and set up his own cult of people who support his ludicrously naive ideas?

Please ask if you'd like the gory details of either side of this (either the excellent consultative bodies which are being ignored or the lack of experience of the people who have generated Gove's policy). I'd be only too delighted to relate all the gory details.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 17:34

Rebecca, you should write about it. I think in public is better.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 18:17

Oh I've written all about this in public many times Ben. The best place to look for an exploration of the credentials of the people who have generated Gove's policies is on the 'Gove's Top Trumps' discussion in the UK Education group on It's an open discussion forum so when you go to linkedin just select groups beside the search box in the top right hand corner and you can read the group. No need to join it.

That discussion thread details in real time the journey I took looking for someone credible (either through experience in managing education or through academic study of the economics of education) who had been involved in the development of Gove's thinking on free markets in education and found absolutely no-one. Instead I found a mixture of the young, the inexperienced and heavy weight spin doctors. And that was it.

As for consultations?
Well let's take the consultation regarding the new National Curriculum. I'm quite interested in that, so I attended the ACME conference this spring where the consultation on the maths curriculum kicked off. At it Tim Oates gave a damning verdict on the 1998 National Curriculum as justification for the new review. It more than a little startling that he chose to damn a curriculum which was replaced in 2007/8 with a well consulted curriculum which addressed most of the issues he raised and had clear reasons for delaying the remedying of those it did not address. So I asked him directly to explain the problems with the 2007/8 secondary maths curriculum and he said that some of the chemistry curriculum was too vague (that all he said - honest!). At the same consultation I asked Elizabeth Truss MP whether the approx. 150 strong forum of maths education experts in front of her would actually be consulted regarding the new curriculum or whether the policy would come instead from think tanks such as Reform. She replied with enthusiasm that we (the audience) were responsible for the horrific state of education and the way forward was to pursue policies in maths education which were what the average Daily Mail reader wanted. She also talked about here expertise in post 16 education but when I questioned her about it over lunch she didn't know even what some of the key qualifications at post 16 are and certainly hadn't read the briefing notes from the excellent WEF consultation on this topic last December.

Anyway - back to the New National Curriculum. Next I attended a 730am consultation at the ATM conference in April. It was an absolute charade. A messenger was sent to 'consult' and he and we all knew the whole process was absolutely pointless. No-one was listening to him so no-one on earth was going to be listening to us through him. But we were promised that there would be a full on-line consultation on the early drafts of the Maths curriculum in September.

Only that has now been delayed until next year and now coincides with the final consultation on the curriculum.

Meanwhile in Scotland their recently launched curriculum took 10 years to develop and consult and that is considered to be natural as that's how long it takes for pilots to bring about proper and full awareness of the reasons for the status quo.

There's plenty more but that's plenty enough for now. Enjoy the thread on linkedin and it's there to be contradicted if you can think of anyone to add to it who actually gives Gove credibility.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 27/10/2011 - 20:00

Ben -

I am so sorry that you took my comments as a personal attack on your character. I do apologise.

I had somehow imagined that your character was somewhat more robust! It's a good job you weren't in Ed Milliband's shoes last week, being called a "complete mug" by David Cameron!

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 28/10/2011 - 10:02

The "mug" comment led to this amusing exchange in the House in which Kevin Brennan (Cardiff West, Labour) asked if he could follow the PM's example and use the word "mug" to describe Nick Clegg, and if he would be allowed to describe the Coalition as a "bunch of hypocrites":

"Kevin Brennan: Indeed, Mr Speaker. In Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister used the phrase “a bunch of hypocrites” and the word “mug”. Could you make it clear that they are in order? I would like to be able to use “mug” in the House to describe the Deputy Prime Minister, knowing that I would be in order, and also to be free with the use of “a bunch of hypocrites” as often as I please when describing the coalition Government."

"Mr Speaker: What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is, I hope, simple and clear: what is involved, in my judgment, is not a matter of order but of taste, and for the avoidance of doubt I would prefer not to hear either term used in the future by any Member."

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 28/10/2011 - 10:09

Nice one Kevin :-)

Unlike the government - who sent Charlotte Leslie (who?) to the WEF consultation on Post 16 and entry to HIgher Education I mentioned above (she turned up, spoke and left), Kevin Brennan (shadow Schools Minister) did attend the whole consultation and clearly understood the issues raised and the emerging perspectives regarding PQA and so on. He came across well.

Jake's picture
Fri, 28/10/2011 - 14:02

The majority on this site will not thank me for posting the article link below but here is an interesting piece on education reform around the globe. And what are the secrets of success? Though there is no one template, 4 important themes emerge: decentralisation (handing power back to schools); a focus on underachieving pupils; a choice of different sorts of schools; and high standards for teachers. These are also of course the 4 pillars underpinning Gove's own reforms. But 'reform without rancour' in this country? Unlikely given the Luddite stance of the teaching unions and the left generally. It reminds me of another quote I read recently from a US teachers union leader who said "when children start paying union dues, I'll start representing the interests of children". No one is saying that Gove has got everything right but based on what is working around the globe it appears the direction of travel is reasonable at this point in the cycle. Its time everyone put politics to one side and looked instead at what actually works based on best practice from around the world.

Keith Turvey's picture
Sun, 30/10/2011 - 10:03

I welcome this article Jake. It is informed and appropriately circumspect about templates for success as Janet has illustrated: Gove's reforms are riddled with contradictions as others have also pointed out above including yourself Jake. I also agree with the comments that you all make regarding the importance of focusing on the recruitment, ongoing development and retention of a highly skilled professional workforce in education.

One other issue that isn't discussed above concerns the whole debate around international measures of comparison. I think it unlikely that PISA, TIMMS etc., would be abolished. But by their very nature one would expect to see changes in rankings over such lengthy time periods which could be put down to any number of variables within the education system of a country or it's position within the global economy, not to mention the effects of demographic pressures and so on. I question the usefulness of such international comparisons which simply do not capture the nuances within different education systems or the costs in terms of a range of other factors such as children's long term emotional well being or their capacity for life-long learning. Each country is different culturally and has different needs. The problem with the way in which these international comparisons are being used the likes of Gove is that they seem to take a very simplistic and naive approach believing that all we need to do is copy what those at the top of the league table have done and success will follow.

Ben Taylor's picture
Sun, 30/10/2011 - 18:02

Keith I think your arguments are particularly relevant to comparing Finland to UK. If we had a massive "tendency" as Finland does towards unifiers such as one ethnic group, one language, one religion, one culture, then we might be able to run a universal comprehensive system. But we don't have this in the UK mostly, probably won't have so we need an extent of providing different templates and a system to provide them.

Keith Turvey's picture
Sun, 30/10/2011 - 20:06

Ben the arguments I make can be applied to any comparison between any two countries. Finland is not as homogenous socially, culturally, ethnically some people make out. Basically I was arguing that simply copying a few of the features of a country's education system is unlikely to lead to success. research in the social sciences shows that such phenomena are rarely based upon simple cause and effect. The article Jake posted simply identified 4 macro level features that appeared to be common across the systems in the upper end of the table. What other features have they missed? Good chapter on international comparisons in education. See intro.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 28/10/2011 - 15:39

Hello Jake, I thank you for posting the article because it creates a useful stimulus for discussion of some important points.

Please could you show me the part of the article which recommends the chaotic closure of local organisation of education and a sudden huge centralisation in power as a mechanism for improvement?

Coherent moves towards freedom of choice are of course desirable - I absolutely agree with you there. Here is a book which details the practicalities of developing this which, as you'll clearly see if you read it (an it is extremely readable) recommends explictly against the types of reforms Gove is pursuing on the grounds that they are only suitable for emerging state systems of education.

Do you actually have a coherent argument that the principles so well described and established in that book no longer apply or are you just talking off the top of your head without relevant experience or study of the administration of education - like Gove and co?

Don't kid yourself into thinking their are any pillars which underpin Gove's reforms. There are none. They were built entirely on spin and not on experience in education, experience in consultation, experience in interacting with state systems or on the academic study of any of these areas. Please do feel free to provide any evidence whatsoever you can find to the contrary.

All that international comparative statistical studies can do, Jake, is to draw our attention to the areas where we might look to gain insights into how we could do things better. It horrifies me that Gove's team seem to think that spotting that a country is doing better than we are will somehow lead to them being able to improve things. This blogpost and the series which come after it give a little insight into the challenges of us even coming to understand what it is we could be doing better, let alone how we should go about achieving that at national level.


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