Sunday, August 29, 2010

Liberal Democrats and free schools

Niklas Smith has an article on Liberal Democrat Voice arguing that the party should support the government’s new generation of free schools. This is a view I have a great deal of sympathy with, as I showed in a House Points column a couple of months ago.

As I found when thinking out my views for that column, this is a complex question. And I have not been an elected councillor for nearly 20 years, which might affect my views too.

But I joined the Liberal Party, and later transferred to the Liberal Democrats, because I believed that Labour’s philosophy was too centralised, too top-down and took little account of the diversity of human needs and character. As I once said in a Guardian piece, we must have an education policy that helps people understand how our view of the world differs from Labour’s.

Certainly, passing the motion on “Free Schools and Academies” that is on the agenda (see p.30) for the Liberal Democrat Conference in Liverpool next month will not inspire anybody beyond the readership of the Guardian’s Education supplement.

Its complaint that setting up new schools would be “prejudicial to the efficient use of resources in an age of austerity” has a flavour of the debate over tractor production in Bulgaria circa 1962.

Its complaint that these new schools would depress educational outcomes for pupils in general is tendentious.

And its demand that academies should have only observer status on the Schools Forum “as they have placed themselves outside the democratic system for the funding of education” is mean-spirited and self-contradictory.

If the movers believe that cohesive administration of the education system is so important, then they should be doing all they can to bring different kinds of school together.

Finally, I am sceptical of the idea of conference calling on “all Liberal Democrats to urge people not to take up this option”. If parents are living in an area with poor schools and no immediate prospect of change, I think they should investigate the possibility of setting up new schools.

I also suspect that some local Liberal Democrats will support them. We are not used to being ordered about by Conference in this way and we should not allow ourselves to become used to it.

Incidentally, I commend Niklas for the grace he is displaying when replying to some unpleasant comments on his Lib Dem Voice piece.

2 comments:

Niklas said...

Thank you very much for your post, it is much appreciated.

dreamingspire said...

Andre Agassi on Charter Schools in the USA: watch it at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00tjhxk/HARDtalk_Andre_Agassi_winner_of_eight_Grand_Slam_tennis_titles/