Sunday, October 20, 2013

The strange politics of Nick Clegg's speech on free schools

Independent schools do not have to teach the national curriculum and are free to hire people who are not qualified teachers.

They do not seem to do so badly on it, but Nick Clegg is determined that these freedoms shall not be extended to schools in the state sector. In saying this Nick is, as Stephen Tall points out, championing Liberal Democrat, but that does not mean he is right.

Because there is an odd contradiction here. The national curriculum was brought in by the Conservatives in the 1980s because they did not believe teachers could be trusted. Lazy. Marxist agitators. That sort of thing.

This seemed to me at the time, and still does, a massively centralising measure that Liberal should oppose/

Yes, all children should be taught to read and all sorts of other things, but almost all teachers would agree with that. And if they don't there are all sorts of mechanisms like school governors and Ofsted to force them to toe the line.

But if you really don't trust teachers and want a national curriculum, why would you give those same teachers a monopoly in schools?

And three quick points on the politics of Nick's speech, which he will not me making until Thursday - today's papers must have set some sort of a record for reporting something that has not yet happened:
  1. this move is another illustration of the truth that if you set out to be a centre party you will always be against radical change;
  2. it is a clear attempt too woo Labour, right down to adopting their silly charge that Gove's reforms are "ideological" - we all have an ideology;
  3. in recent days Nick has shafted probably his two strongest supporters among his senior MPs: Jeremy Browne and David Laws. Good luck, Nick.
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Anonymous said...

It is not their unqualified teachers or not following the National Curriculum that accounts for Independent schools "doing alright". Its the absolute control of their intake that is the key. Too poor, too disruptive or failing to pass the intelligence test they set and you will not be accepted. Which is I think is one of the attraction of free schools to conservatives.

Anonymous said...

I went to a rather good intendant school that did have some unqualified teachers. They were hired (or so it seemed) because they had PhDs and were really very very clever people. I don't think any of them could teach to save their lives, but they were given small groups of highly motivated students for whom the resource of having somebody who really really knew their subject (Physics, Maths and Latin) and the ability to go far beyond the national curriculum was invaluable. Had any of us put up the anything in the resistance to learning I think they would have fallen flat on their faces, but we didn't. Partly because we were all keen to go to Oxbridge, partly because we knew our parents were paying for all this and partly because the school had powers to discipline that most state schools couldn't dream of (especially over the boarders).

For me this presents a real dilemma. Those teachers were so very important to my own education, and I think it is terrible that they and others like them are so rare outside of the independent sector. However, they are not good teachers and would have failed the majority of students. If free schools had the independence to be selective enough and authoritative enough (not to mention the power to make classes small enough) then to not have these kinds of teachers would be a shame. However mostly the tide is against schools being either selective or authoritative and in that case they really should stick to qualified teachers.

Art said...

I think the private schools point is slightly off-topic. By definition, the user of a private school is exercising a level of choice that their greater wealth (or decision to spend every spare penny on school fees, or both) has given them. If that choice is simply not available to you, you still have some choice in the state sector, but it's rather limited. And therefore having minimum quality standards becomes important.

Where Nick disappoints me is that he fails to come up with much of a liberal answer. I would have thought that a liberal approach would be to insist on standards but not on content. A fair attack on free schools is that they don't insist enough on standards because they have style - something that Gove rather likes. Instead Nick seems to want to insist on content - curriculum, qualified teachers etc.

Tristan said...

I thoroughly agree.
I note that it is also said that in when the Tories abolished School Boards in 1902, it was in part to try and prevent socialist influence upon education.

I also think part of the reason for a national curriculum is that education is seen as a means to produce a working class with the skillset desired by employers rather than as giving people the means (and encourage the desire) to educate themselves and to think critically.