My daughter goes to Hove Park School in East Sussex. The management team of that school wants to turn it into an academy. Parents appear to not want that to happen. We are engaged in a process called consultation which is really a presentation but spelt differently. A process that has thus far amounted to receiving a glossy leaflet saying: ‘We’re thinking academy is the way to go.’ Parents have responded by saying: ‘We’d rather you didn’t.’ And the management team has replied: ‘Shush now’.
I won’t bore you with the frustrations that characterise this process. What I do think is worth reflecting on, though, is the language that underpins it because it seems that modern politics dictates that if you control the language you control the outcome, and it is this which has unsettled me the most.
It began some time in 2010, I think. We went to bed believing that we lived in a country that valued its public services and we woke in a country worried about its public sector. Public services are socially cohesive: we do not simply benefit from what they do (mend us, protect us, teach us etc) but from the civilizing nature of their existence (public services institutionalize decency). But the public sector is a different thing altogether, it is an economic category. It is something that demands resourcing, that drains us rather than enriches us. What can we do? Cut it? Punish it? And maybe we might turn it into a business opportunity? We did it with health care: hospitals are places sick people go. Hospital Trusts are businesses that manage resources. It could work with education. Maybe we might relabel statutory education as ‘the schools market’?
The language and reasoning that legitimises academies is born of economics and market opportunity. Any uncertainty on the part of educationalists is mocked using the words that thrive in the marketplace: choice, affordability, value for money, freedom from regulation. Opposition is marginalized as unrealistic, out dated, naive.
But I do oppose. I oppose the process, the principle and the morality. Our school wants to become an academy, apparently, because it will enable them to access money normally ‘skimmed off by the LEA’. This, we are told is good for us because after all we want the best for our children. Unless we are bad parents, and we don’t want to be thought of as bad parents do we? But I want to aspire to more than that. I want the best for all children. I do not want to be part of a carve up that prevents other local schools sharing funds equitably. I do not want to abandon the collective efforts to improve standards across the whole community. I value the collegiate, I value the morally responsible. I do not want to ‘get in first before someone else does.’ And I don’t want my daughter to imagine that good business trumps good ethics.
Furthermore I don’t like the abandonment of existing regulation. I don’t think regulation is restraining, I think it is reassuring. I like knowing that there are processes that govern and oversee complaints, professional training, admissions procedures and safeguarding.
Our prospective academy is being sold to us using a language that is weighted toward a business model and an awful lot of ‘trust us we know best,’ followed by shrugging. To care one becomes characterized as troublesome or worse, ‘lacking in understanding.’
Whatever happens in the coming weeks the goodwill amongst parents has been damaged as has the faith in the school’s leadership team. That is a shame. Fortunately we have a council (Green as it happens) prepared to support us. One wonders if such things matter. What price democracy if it challenges the more pressing ‘freedoms’ of the marketplace?
Mark A Radcliffe – a parent of a child at Hove Park School