Friday, May 11, 2007

A Tuscan mountain village (rather than a blancmange)

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Making a dull boy

Everyone is talking about Tony Blair’s legacy. If you seek his monument, don’t go to Stormont or the Millennium Dome. Go to Peterborough. For something wholly characteristic is taking shape in its damp fields.

When it opens in September, the Thomas Deacon city academy will be the most expensive state school in Britain. Replacing three existing schools, it will have 2200 pupils and cost £46.4m. It is being designed by Norman Foster. In the shape of a blancmange.

Showing a typically New Labour blend of art and militarism, it will offer facilities for music, dance and theatre and a combined cadet force.

But there will be no playground and no breaks either. The school’s head told The Times: “We are not intending to have any play time. Pupils won’t need to let off steam because they will not be bored.”

Instead they will be treated like employees of a corporation and led on a 30-minute rolling lunch break in the cafeteria by teachers. And how will they get a drink if there are no breaks? Don’t worry, says the head. They “will be able to hydrate during the learning experience”.

Why has this sort of nonsense flourished under New Labour?

It flows from a wish to appear modern and from a starry-eyed view of the business world that was inherited unscathed from the Major years. People claim that academies teach creationism rather than proper science, but a better founded concern is that they give sponsors assets and influence out of proportion to the limited funds they contribute.

You could say in Blair’s defence that the city academy programme grew out of his recognition that many state schools offer poor education. Old Labour (and too many Liberal Democrats) were unwilling to say so in case it upset the teaching unions or called into question the shibboleth of comprehensive schooling.

But just because what exists is bad, it doesn’t follow that anything you put in its place will be better.

They learned this in Middlesbrough, where the Unity city academy was modelled on a Tuscan mountain village (rather than a blancmange). Two years ago Ofsted dubbed it a "failing" school, with the lack of a playground contributing to "the negative attitudes of the pupils". It now has a playground.

1 comment:

James Graham said...

I thought the Academy programme was all about promoting choice? How does merging 3 moderate-sized schools into one giant-size one increase choice to anyone?