I watched the ‘Starting your own school’ documentary last week. I watched with trepidation as I guessed it would annoy me. In fact the first sentence was quite positive – Toby was saying he was a failure. So far so good, nothing to disagree violently with there. That was the best bit though.
There seemed to be a huge discrepancy between what Toby and his friends were saying (we are inclusive, we want to encourage people from different backgrounds to send their children to our school, we are not just a bunch of middle class people creating our own elite institution) and what seemed likely to happen from looking at and listening to Toby and his friends.
The committee of people setting up Toby’s school are all middle class professionals. There don’t seem to be any representatives of the disadvantaged people they say they want to include, on the committee. But that is not surprising; who has the time, money and contacts to set up a school? This is one of the problems with the whole Big Society idea; you need to involve all sections of the community in order to have a hope in hell of succeeding with it. But disadvantaged people don’t have the requisite skills. And they are busy getting through their day to day existence on an ever diminishing amount of money. Other people may have plenty of knowledge, experience and motivation but are busy using it to earn a crust and don’t have time.
Last week I attended my son’s school PTA Annual General Meeting where the previous committee were practically on their knees begging the eight people that attended to take on a position of responsibility. They filled some of the roles but not all so there is an emergency meeting next week. People didn’t want to get involved in running the organisation for various reasons; some lacked confidence, others (like me) lacked time.
The curriculum that Toby and his friends want in their school involves lots of ‘classical education’ including compulsory Latin for years 7 to 9. This does not seem likely to appeal to working class children, or most other teenagers to be honest. How does it fit in with their lives, their experiences, their hopes and plans for the future? The students he interviews said as much in the documentary. Gove talks about freeing schools from the constraints of the curriculum by allowing Heads freedom. But then the curriculum (as in the case of Toby’s school) is surely more likely to be narrowed and cease to provide the broad and balanced education that most people think is a good basis for adult life, because it will have to fit the particular agenda of a small group of people who are setting up the school.
There were clips of Toby’s fellow committee members canvassing parents in the deprived local estate which was apparently ‘evidence’ of how they wanted these families to come to the new school. I do wonder how much other canvassing, involving, inviting went on off camera.
I am not that bothered about what Toby and his friends want their children to learn about. If they pay for it themselves, that is. The huge problem I have with Free Schools and Academies is that they have already taken money out of the education budget destined for other schools (harnessing technology grant) and will take more in the future. This is not fair and does not promote equality. We need funding for support for children with Special Educational Needs, English as an Additional Language, Educational Welfare, Looked after Children, Travellers and Early Years education; this will all be squeezed by a drain of finances going to these new schools.
Since the programme was broadcast, this was published.
Making children learn Latin for 3 years isn’t indoctrination then? And school is not the place for ethnic/social mixing, this should be left to the church? This would leave children of atheists racially segregated for a start.
And today, this appeared from poor Toby: ‘Lefties go mental while watching my school documentary’. I wonder how you say that in Latin? It might sound a bit more intellectual.
Toby asks: “Why do Free Schools bring out such violent reactions in people?” Because many people think it is wrong to bleed money from the state education system to provide niche schools in areas which do not necessarily have a shortage of places, for well-connected people whose children would do perfectly well at a ‘normal’ state school, that’s why.