Why Michael Gove must be right with Free Schools

Ian Taylor's picture
Our Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has benefitted from the type of “liberal classical education” so beloved of Toby Young. Both men see the benefits of ensuring that our young people are introduced to Latin or Greek. I am sure that they are both familiar with Greek philosophy. Up until now I had not realised why they were such keen proponents. Belatedly I have seen the light. I am beginning to see why studying Latin or Greek might be more advantageous than studying technology or computer science, especially if you want to be a politician.

The average Brit is less likely to have had a “liberal classical education”, than the current Coalition Cabinet. Apologies to those of you who have had such, and are fully aware of the following.

The term sophistry comes from the ancient Greek Sophists, philosophers who taught their students to win arguments by any means necessary. Sophists were able to argue for any side in an issue equally well. The Sophists were accused of not really being interested in truth or reason; instead, they were only interested in making money by using arguments they knew were wrong or at least flawed, in the hopes that others would be convinced anyway.

Mr Gove’s stated policy is that “Free Schools cannot be run for profit”.

According to this BBC report Swedish company IES UK has won a £21m contract to manage a proposed Free School in Suffolk. Mr Gove’s position is that a school can be run by a trust, and if the trust gives the running of that school over to a private profit making company, the school is not being run for profit. You might need to read this paragraph again. We intend to give £21million of taxpayers money to a private company to run a Free School, and the Free School is not being run for profit.

My own liberal classical education tells me this. If it looks like a turd, feels like a turd, and smells like a turd, it probably is a turd. But Mr Gove has convinced me that I am wrong.
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Jake's picture
Wed, 14/12/2011 - 11:26

Ian Taylor - great to see you are such a big fan of Gove and Toby Young. I would also draw your attention to a comment I just posted on another thread that this type of model is not unique to this government - its been done before by the previous Labour government in north London with Edison. Still I suppose being in denial or suffering from selective memory mitigates any accusation of sophistry on the part of the Luddite Schools Network.


Ian Taylor's picture
Wed, 14/12/2011 - 13:37

Sorry to leave you out Jake. I admire your liberal classical education too.

You have convinced me that I am wrong with the power of your argument.

So, have I got this right now? If it looks like a turd, feels like a turd, and smells like a turd, it probably is NOT a turd! Yes, that sounds much more sensible. Thank you.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 14/12/2011 - 14:31

At the time, Labour were greatly criticised, particularly by those on the Left and Labour voters, for policies which encouraged the privatisation of state schools under the wrong hands and so it has come to pass. They are still being criticised for it today, even by the party faithful. So this has nothing to do with "selective memory" or "denial", nor does it have much to do with partisan politics.

As far as Edison is concerned, this is company that is alleged to be mired in malpractice, as I posted here http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/12/edison-learning-has-been-s...’s-state-schools-increasing/. The Conservatives had an opportunity to correct the mistakes of Labour by removing the risk of degrading children’s education in the hands of profit-first companies with a history of alleged and serious complaints about their operations, but it appears that the temptation to feed corporate greed at the expense of the education of our children and the welfare of ordinary British citizens was just to much to resist.

The conservative instinct to protect and promote its own is embedded into its so-called school “reform” agenda. Michael Gove once described his zeal as “radical”. There is nothing radical about them. On the contrary, they are a throwback to a time when education was segregated according to class, unequal and implemented to ensure that social cohesion would never happen. Truly Luddite.

Leon Cych's picture
Thu, 15/12/2011 - 06:35

It's a common politician's trick. What do you think "Education, Education, Education" was? Because people do not understand the underlying patterns behind these word patterns then they fall for it every time. There's a more common term for it and that's called "Weasel Words".

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 15/12/2011 - 13:17

Leon - you rightly highlight the tricks of oratory and how a skilled speaker can manipulate the audience. As Ian pointed out in his original post, sophistry is the art of winning an argument even if the argument is wrong. That's why I think it's essential for school pupils to be made aware of these tricks - not so they could use them (although undoubtedly some of them would, especially if they wanted to enter politics), but so that they can see when they are being manipulated. And that's equally why media studies gets a bashing - because it would open people's eyes and ears to rhetorical trickery.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Thu, 15/12/2011 - 20:59

Scotland looks beautiful today....

Ian Taylor's picture
Fri, 16/12/2011 - 11:56

Fraser Nelson in the Telegraph http://to.ly/bJWK has not understood the subtleties of sophistry. Referring to the proposed Suffolk Free School he says this:

“The £21 million deal will allow the new school to behave like a business – that is, to make a profit. Although the Education Secretary is too discreet to say it, this could be a historic event.”

So the truth is starting to leak out. How long will Mr Gove be able to hold the line that it is not about profit?

On the same day we have a BBC report http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16200099 detailing an Academy from the chain Oasis UK, having to sack 13 staff including 9 teachers. The Academy had appointed 2 new highly paid staff only a few months earlier! The students will be having new timetables when they return after Christmas. Imagine the effect on the students’ education if the timetables have to be rewritten to make do with 9 fewer teachers!

I thought Academies were supposed to demonstrate how we can improve our education system. Scrapping all the students’ lessons half way through a year hardly seems like an improvement to me. Where were the highly paid super executives from the Oasis UK chain when these blunders were taking place?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 16/12/2011 - 15:38

O, yes, Fraser Nelson - praising Mr Gove for acting "unobtrusively" in getting profit-making firms in under the radar. And he uses the "plummeting down the league tables" argument and quotes the data which regular readers will know has been found to be flawed by the OECD and shouldn't be used for comparison.

However, there's an interesting comment by MikeStallard on Nelson's thread from one of the proposers of a free secondary school in Wisbech: “So we tried to start up a free school with IES. In March 2010, I personally attended an initial meeting in London with Rachel Wolf and Michael Gove where the question of profit actually came up. I remember Michael Gove saying it was no problem, “You simply subcontract.” The CEO of IES, Peter Fyles, gave a speech as an honoured expert.”

So, it appears that the New Schools Network is encouraging free school proposers to meet with profit-making firms. I wonder if the Network also funds the fact-finding visits that the proposed Breckland Free School made to Sweden. Perhaps Toby Young can answer this, because the proposers of the West London Free School also made a visit. And how many other free school proposers have flown over to Sweden, or even the States, and at whose expense?

But the most interesting thing about the comment is that Mr Gove told the proposers of the Wisbech School that all they needed to do to circumvent the profit problem was to subcontract.


Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 16/12/2011 - 17:52

What is also interesting is how this promoter group managed the run the sort of procurement process necessary to subcontract the running of a school . Presumably someone must have been helping them. If so I wonder who it was, how much they were paid and who paid ?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 16/12/2011 - 18:17

From the article:

"If Britain’s education sector were to emerge as an education industry, it is easy to see sink schools – our national shame – being eradicated within five years."

Only if you're completely ignorant about education or have consumed and entire field of dubious mushrooms. Or perhaps if you're sight is directed at examining Gove's colonoscopy.

Toby Young's picture
Sat, 17/12/2011 - 01:24

IES has never paid any members of our group anything, nor did any other education provider. Our trip to Sweden was funded by a combination of ourselves and Renegade, an independent production company that was following our group's efforts to set up a free school for the purposes of making a BBC documentary – though no footage from the Swedish trip ended up in the doc.

Ben Taylor's picture
Sat, 17/12/2011 - 00:09

What do we do about the parents who look at their local school and think;

"it looks like a turd, feels like a turd, and smells like a turd, it probably is a turd." ?

I would rather offer them a school they want to go to.

Let us leave the sophistry of the poor state school to the elite of the unions.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Mon, 19/12/2011 - 18:18

From the article:

“If Britain’s education sector were to emerge as an education industry, it is easy to see sink schools – our national shame – being eradicated within five years.”

Just as the private care home industry has eradicated sink care homes presumably.

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