Thursday, October 27, 2005

Another Lib Dem MP on education

Welcome to the second in a series where I take issue with Liberal Democrat MPs over their views on education. Yesterday it was Ed Davey: today it is Mark Hunter.

Mark held Cheadle in the by-election a few months ago and was even a member of the Liberator Collective before my day. He has a letter in today's Guardian and its central paragraph runs:
One only has to consider the government's battle cry of allowing good schools to expand to see the folly of this argument. If the policy is taken to its logical conclusion, a local authority such as Stockport metropolitan borough council, for example, would eventually have only a handful of secondary schools serving its 50 square miles. All the rest would, presumably, succumb to market forces and disappear.
But would any schools want to grow to this enormous size? Would any parents want to send their children to them if they did? Mark's case seems to be that governing bodies and parents are both criminally stupid and need local education authorities to save them from themselves.

One of the hopes behind opening up education to other providers must be that it will lead to the existence of more school schools. For a weakness of the state comprehensive system as it was originally introduced was that schools needed a huge intake at 11 in order to have a viable sixth form in years to come. So it is not as if the local education authorities are always noted for their small schools.

In a comment on this blog Theo Butt Philip (Hello, Theo) suggests that after abolishing the national curriculum and league tables we should "we should let democratically elected and accountable councils get on with running schools as they see fit".

Where the councils are running the schools well I am sure this is what will happen. The question is what we do where schools are run badly. Is it enough to tell parents whose children are in bad schools - and who cannot afford to go private or move house - that they have a vote once every four years? I do not think it is.

And if you want really strong meat try Stephen Tall, who comes out in support of education vouchers. I am more interested in exploring what a Liberal education system should look like than committing myself to a particular mechanism, but see what you think.

7 comments:

Theo Butt Philip said...

Hello Jonathan.

No, it's not enough to say, "[you have] a vote once every four years". There should be ways that communities, individuals and even parents/teachers/pupils to have a real impact on how their schools are run; I just don't think that the Department for Education and Skills should be dictating how that works.

Tom Barney said...

Yes, the original logic behind huge comprehensives was that only they could support an adequate sixth form but the solution to this problem ought to be obvious. Have several smallish comprehensives all feeding into one sixth form college. This would allow unusual combinations of A level subjects and unusual subjects, both old ones making a comeback such as Latin and ones not formerly offered at A level such as philosophy. This demonstrates incidentally that you do not necessarily need many institutions to offer greater choice - sometimes on the contrary.

Apollo Project said...

Tom - nice idea, but the "best" teachers want to teach A-Level. Hence they will all go to the college and the 1st to 5th form schools will get the "dregs".

I know this to be the case because it was mooted for my school and that was one of the objections.

Liberal Neil said...

Where the councils are running the schools well I am sure this is what will happen. The question is what we do where schools are run badly. Is it enough to tell parents whose children are in bad schools - and who cannot afford to go private or move house - that they have a vote once every four years? I do not think it is.

Jonathan, how do you believe schools are actually run now?

The School Governing Body and Head Teacher already run the school. The Governing Body appoints the Head. The Head appoints the staff. The Head decides what staffing structure the school has, line manages the staff, manages the budget, runs the buildings, decides the curriculum and the timetable, the opening and closing times, how school meals are provided, the furniture purchasing, what colour the pencils are etc etc.

The Governing Body which includes the Head, staff reps, several parents and a small number of people appointed by the LEA (typically local people appointed on the recommendation of the local councillor) and often a few co-optees hold the head to account and are responsible for setting school policies.

The LEA role was reduced long ago to coordinating things like admissions policies, transport, special education needs, school social workers, and capital strategy long ago.

The idea that LEAs 'run' schools is nonsense.

It is true that Heads are hamstrung on much of the detail of the things in the above list, but this is because of national interference, not LEAs.

James said...

But would any schools want to grow to this enormous size? Would any parents want to send their children to them if they did?

Jonathan, you are starting to sound dangerously like a market fundamentalist.

The answer to the first question is 'to maximise funding' and the answer to the second question is 'once standards had clearly begun to slip, no'.

Unfortunately however, markets are dynamic and fluid things, and information doesn't travel instantly. That's why, for example, local shops and post offices are dying on their arse and people are switching to supermarkets despite the fact that everyone agrees that local shops and services is highly desirable.

I also slightly resent the implication of your argument that just because I have committed the heinous crime of not having children, I should have no say whatsoever in how the education services of my country, which I am expected to pay for, should be run. Not being a parent and thus not having a vested interest cuts both ways. On the one hand I don't have an agenda to protect the interests of my children. On the other hand, that enables me to see a broader perspective.

Why would a parent wanting their child educated right now have any more interest in the education of children in the future than me? Yet you are advocating not only shutting me out of the process, but giving the parents of today's children a decisive role over the education of the next generation.

At the end of the day, it is this mess of conflicting vested interests is why we have elections.

Bishop Hill said...

James, excuse me butting in, but why is this market fundamentalism? You agree that the market will put in place a mechanism to limit the size of schools, which I think everyone agrees is a good thing. You say that there may be a delay in the market getting hold of information about changes in standards at schools but this is surely pointing out a minor inconvenience rather than making an argument against the superiority of the market principle. At the end of the day the market will limit school sizes while the state system will not.

A couple of other points:

If everyone agrees that local shops are better why does everyone shop at supermarkets?

Don't you think that parents should make the decisions about how their children are educated? The children are not public property after all.

James said...

I've replied here.