Sunday, 20 October 2013

I agree with Nick

Update - no I don't agree with this - but feel free to read the following as if he actually had dared to express mild criticiam of Free Schools without immediately spoiling it by climbing down.

I, for one, welcome Nick Clegg's belated questioning of the Free Schools experiment. Never mind that this ill-conceived project only exists because Nick and chums were either cynical enough to swap their principles for the chance to ride in a ministerial limo, or foolish enough to believe they could ride the Tory tiger without getting eaten for breakfast. Never mind that he didn't have to wait for this to happen - anyone with an ounce of foresight could have worked out the insanely dangerous parts of the experiment before anyone got hurt ('let's test the hypothesis that qualifications and teacher training are a complete waste of time by letting unqualified people teach your kids' is about as prudent and ethical as saying 'now then children, we're going to see what happens if we fire up the food processor, then stick little Johnny's finger in it').

Never mind all that, for verily I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

It's good as far as it goes, but I'm still waiting for a prominent politician to do something really brave and loudly ask some tough questions about the almost-as-divisive, and far more numerous, Academy Schools, currently waging a zero-sum war on Local Authority schools by sucking out their best-performing pupils, then leaving them to fail as their league-table results inevitably nosedive. But, Academy Schools, unlike Free Schools are part of a cross-party political consensus that still venerates league tables, 'competition' and 'choice' and can't bear to utter the word 'comprehensive' without adding the contemptuous prefix 'bog standard' - presumably on the principle that is you keep bleating 'bog standard' loudly enough and often enough, nobody will hear that the world's most successful education system is built of bog high-standard comprehensive schools.

It's all very well joining the back of queue to bash Free Schools on the back of a notorious failure and some bad headlines, but there's a strong case for being the first in the queue to point out the the Emperor of Academy Schools is stark naked. It's not as if non-politicians haven't pointed out the systemic problems, clearly and concisely - and not just in obscure educational journals:
Academy Schools have a lot of freedom to diverge from the curriculum, to hire unusual instructors, and to try variations on school meals and other conventions. In theory, this makes room for schools that are freer and more student-oriented. In practice, many of them are run by Young Earth Creationists who teach that the universe is 5,000 years old; or sell sugary drinks and candy bars as a source of profit for the school's investors; or do sweetheart deals with preferred suppliers for mandatory, overpriced school uniforms that include some form of kickback for the school; or hire totally unqualified ideologues to teach the kids.

Academies are "selective schools," meaning that they can suck all the high-scoring kids out of the local state schools, which brings down the average performance of the state schools, costing them budget and ensuring that parents will try to keep their kids out of them. And Academies are only accountable to the national government, instead of the local council, so if your local Academy is screwed up, your only real remedy is to ask your MP to raise a question about it in Parliament.

It's great if your neighbourhood Academy is a progressive hotbed of exciting educational ideas that uses community-based experts in its instruction and grows a garden to supplement the school dinners. But if it's a rent-seeking hotbed of loony Creationism and dumb ideas about policing language, it's still likely to be the only game in town for your kids, after the state school has been drained of any kid with the chance to go somewhere else, and then punished for failing.
Cory Doctorow

It would take a brave politician to take on the pro-Academy consensus, but I reckon that Nick needs a show of real boldness on this scale if he's ever going to come close to atoning for the tuition fees betrayal - 'and by the way, I always had my doubts about Free Schools' just ain't going to cut it.