Opinion: The coalition’s education policies are seriously flawed

Peter Downes, a former comprehensive school head-teacher and current Liberal Democrat councillor, examines the new coalition government’s education policies …

1. While it is encouraging to see that the Lib Dem case for a ‘pupil premium’ has been accepted as a policy by the coalition, how this will operate is unclear. The foreword to the Coalition Agreement stated:

extra money following the poorest pupils so that they, at last, get to go to the best schools, not the worst.’

Does it mean:

    a) that the extra money to be allocated to pupils who are considered poor because they are on Free School Meals will be used on those pupils in the schools where they are currently pupils and that the extra money will transform these worst schools into the best schools?


    b) the extra money attached to the poorest pupils will act as an incentive to the ‘best schools’ to start recruiting the poorest pupils who will bring with them so much money that the best schools will be able to provide what they need and still have a bonus?

    2. The Academies proposal is very unsatisfactory and is a most serious contravention of the Lib Dem education policies agreed at Harrogate in Spring 2009. If this invitation to become an Academy is taken up by many schools, we will have a twoltier system with local authorities left with what are perceived to be the less successful schools but with less money to help them.

    Michael Gove keeps talking about ‘local authority control’. Has nobody told him that local authorities have not ‘controlled’ schools for over 20 years? They have a critically important role in ensuring that there are sufficient school places in the appropriate locations and are there to advise, support and provide cost-effectively the services that schools cannot easily supply for themselves.

    Under the Academies proposal, influence moves away from local to central government which totally contradicts the rhetoric of the rest of the coalition agreement.

    3. However, by far the worst proposal is the new government’s plan for ‘free schools’ – to be set up by groups of parents, teachers, voluntary bodies, charities or faith groups, independent of local authorities.

    This drew a strong reaction from Mary Bousted of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers. She described the idea as ‘barking mad’. This is a serious understatement – the implications for the English education system are potentially disastrous. This Conservative policy, disappointingly unchallenged and apparently supported by the Liberal Democrats in coalition, could transform state schools in a far more radical way than any of the plethora of other ideas of the last 20 years.

    Here are just a few reasons why this is a very bad idea:

    a) Creating new schools is logistically burdensome, time-consuming and expensive
    Setting up and building a new school currently takes between three and five years from the time that a local authority identifies the need for extra places. The unwieldy and expensive competition process, invented unhelpfully by the last government, takes a year – and then it takes a further two years to design and build a primary school, and about four years for a secondary school.

    The work involved is massively complex: identifying and purchasing a site, getting planning permission, designing buildings that meet the crushing bureaucratic requirements of health and safety and disability access, procuring the equipment and fittings, recruiting the staff, planning the phased entry of pupils – these are just some of the pressures that cannot be avoided.

    The process could of course be short-circuited by cutting out the competition, ignoring planning requirements or by using existing buildings. (It has been suggested that empty offices, warehouses, disused hospitals and factories might be converted – can you imagine it?)

    It is not a job for well-meaning amateurs. It requires experience and expertise on top of ‘vision’. The entrepreneurs are already lining up to offer their services but these will be expensive and, further down the line, they will expect a return on their investment.

    b. School admissions will become even more complex and frustrating
    Assuming that these ‘free schools’ will have their own admission rules, the scramble for places in schools, already made stressful by previous governments’ obsession with parental preference, will turn into a nightmare if there is no local body with the overriding authority to organise it.

    Most of the new schools will be small and will have the superficial attractiveness of novelty. They will have more applicants than places and so selection criteria will be needed. How otherwise can the parents who have set them up be sure that their children will actually get a place? If the Local Authority has no role, who will provide the tribunals to sort out the chaos of deregulation?

    c) Social division will be exacerbated and inequality increased
    he greatest pressure for ‘free schools’ will come from middle-class parents who have been brainwashed by the right-wing press into thinking that state education is failing their children. Nothing is farther from the truth. The vast majority of parents, when asked confidentially for their opinion on the schools their own children attend, give a very high satisfaction rating. When asked about schools in general, they are much less positive.

    Parents who want to protect their children from mixing at schools with ‘undesirable elements’, with different religious, racial or political views and with lower academic aspirations, will be the first in the queue. This will drain out of the state comprehensive sector the very parents and pupils who provide much of the impetus that makes comprehensive schools successful. To get an idea of what might happen, we only have to look at the harmful effect on children segregated at 11 by examination results, compared with children of similar ability educated in balanced comprehensive schools.

    The ‘bog standard comprehensive’, a term disgracefully coined by Alistair Campbell for New Labour, will sink even further into the bog. The idea that the competition provided by the new schools will force poor schools to raise their game is absurd. All schools are now measured in so much detail that they scarcely need any greater incentive to work even harder.

    Gove claims that poor schools will wither and disappear. That reveals his callous indifference to the young people who are actually in these withering schools. The ‘Pupil Premium’, cited by Gove as the answer to this problem, will have to be massive and extremely well targeted to make any difference.

    d) The educational advantages are problematic
    The pre-election propaganda claimed that the free schools in Sweden and USA have been a success. Other evidence suggests that this is by no means as clear-cut as the proponents would claim. Teachers and educational administrators from Sweden seem to be going off the idea.

    Ann-Christin Larsson told the TES that ‘it was decided when free schools were invented that there would be more competition between schools, that it would create more pedagogical renewal and be more cost-effective. But the schools have not created any new pedagogical ideas. The new schools have not been cost-effective and there have been huge planning problems.’

    If the new schools are set up in a hurry in unsuitable buildings, the effect on learning could be negative. If pupils in new schools have limited or no access to expensive facilities such as gymnasia, science laboratories, technology workshops and playing-fields, their curriculum could shrink and many of the positive curricular developments of the last thirty years put in jeopardy.

    The schools’ power to ignore the national curriculum is specious. Pupils will still have to take the exams based on the national curriculum and pursuit of ever-improving exam results will inevitably reduce the freedom to innovate.

    It is frankly absurd that free schools, academies formed from outstanding schools and academies born from failing schools should be notionally able to ignore the national curriculum while the remaining schools still have to follow it. The whole purpose of the national curriculum, as created in the 1980s, was to bring greater consistency and reliability to teaching standards and content across the country.

    e) This development is professionally dangerous for teachers
    Free schools will not have to follow national pay scales. Everybody assumes that this will mean that they can attract the best teachers by paying them more. But if the free schools are going to be funded on the same basis as other schools, extra pay can only be achieved by making classes larger or by cutting back on equipment, facilities and books, thereby reducing the educational outcomes for pupils.

    The greater likelihood is that pay will be less and that the hard-won improvements in conditions of service for teachers, such as the guaranteed preparation time during the school day and limitations on providing cover, will be put at risk. The role of the teaching unions and associations will become immeasurably more difficult as they try to support or defend their members in schools which have torn up the agreements that protect teachers.

    f) These proposals are politically contradictory and democratically deficient
    The free schools concept is being sold to the public as ‘giving power to the people’ and removing the control of education from central government and local government. Yet it is obvious that the new schools must be held to account. They are being funded by taxpayers and there must be public accountability. This will be exercised by central government and the agencies it sets up to carry out its work.

    The claim of power and freedom to local people is illusory. If things go wrong, as inevitably they will at some stage, to whom do the disenchanted turn for help and redress? At the moment, parents can contact their local councillors and local authority officials so that action can be taken. Ken Clarke said many years ago that the more freedom you give schools, the more accountability there must be.

    In a market-place economy, when you are dissatisfied, you move your patronage to another provider. If you are dissatisfied with the quality of bread you get from Sainsbury’s, you try Tesco and perhaps Waitrose. A child’s education requires stability and continuity. ‘Shopping around’ would harm the educational experience of children. Parents who have had to move to another part of the country because of a change of job know what an upheaval that can be.

    The current system of local authority oversight of schools has its problems but it does at least have the merit of being democratically accountable. The governors of schools are drawn from a range of interests – parents, teachers, non-teaching staff, local authority nominees – and the local authority can give back-up and training. Behind all that are the elected councillors who can be challenged and, if necessary, thrown out via the ballot-box. If the governance and oversight of the new schools is vested only in the providers, the position of the parents is weakened.

    The system also becomes vulnerable to extremists and activist cranks. Gove tells us that the Department for Education will weed out those with a ‘dark agenda’ so there’s another central bureaucracy to pay for. How will they distinguish between what is obviously dark and what may become dark once established? It’s ridiculous.

    g) Waiting for a free school is psychologically unsettling for pupils
    As already indicated above, the creation of free schools will take time. Children will be aware that their parents are so dissatisfied with the school they are attending that they are planning to break away and form their own school. This will undermine the confidence that pupils have in their teachers and make relationships with the school very difficult.

    It adds an unnecessary complication to children’s perception of themselves, their peers and their teachers. If their current school is not good enough for them, what is wrong with the teachers and why is it good enough for the children whose parents are not planning to move them away? These are issues that young people should not need to face. It will cause unproductive anxiety.

    h) The whole project is financially disastrous
    On top of all the serious misgivings and reservations outlined above, the cost of creating a range of new providers is sheer economic folly, especially at a time of the most severe financial pressure we have known for decades.

    If we assume that the overall expenditure on education is to remain static, the changes have to be contained within the funds available. It is rumoured that the Building Schools for the Future programme, which so many schools have been planning for and looking forward to, will be scrapped or cut back to provide the capital needed for new schools. That in itself will cause massive resentment but it is as nothing compared to the impact of the Gove proposals on the revenue funding of schools.

    The majority of new schools will be small – that is part of their alleged attraction. Small schools are very uneconomical. Gove’s maxim of ‘small schools with small classes’ is impossible since small schools tend to have larger classes unless they receive extra funding. If new schools are set up where there is no demand for extra places, they will draw pupils out of existing schools which will also become less viable.

    Whatever the shortcomings of the last Labour administration may or may not have been, the increase of funding for the running of schools has produced levels of staffing, particularly of teaching assistants and administrative support staff, undreamt of in the Thatcher-Major era.

    Expectations have risen; new teaching methods have been devised on the assumption of support from non-teaching assistants and access to high quality IT equipment. All this could be put in jeopardy if money is wasted in producing more small unviable schools and creating spare capacity in existing schools.

    Then there are the predators waiting to jump in. For-profit companies can only make their returns by squeezing provision. The capacity for making economies through better procurement is very limited since schools and local authorities have worked hard on this in the 30 years since local financial management was introduced. Children’s education is too precious to be exposed to the rigours of the market-place.

    If the educational and social arguments were strong and if the country was going through a sustained period of plenty, there might be case for a limited experiment in alternative provision. At this time, the Gove policy is desperately inappropriate. It is putting the education of all pupils, those in the free schools and those in the unfree ones, at serious risk.

    i) Conclusion – don’t do it!
    In his pre-election speeches, Gove claimed that he wanted to transform the education system irreversibly. What he has insisted on including in the Coalition Agreement could put back public education by decades.

    In the late 19th century education was provided by foundation grammar schools, technical schools, commercial schools, churches, charities and a multiplicity of private concerns. In 1881 the headmaster of Witney Grammar School was dismissed for incompetence so he bought up a property a few doors away and what did he do? He set up an Academy!

    The coalition government trumpets Freedom and Fairness as its guiding principles. These principles are admirable in theory but in practice there need to be restraints on freedom to protect fairness. The Gove Plan offers a prospect of provision that will be erratic, inadequately regulated, unfair, inefficient and costly.

    Our children deserve better.

    Peter Downes was a comprehensive school head-teacher for 21 years. He was Head of Hinchingbrooke School in Huntingdon at the time of the introduction of Local Financial Management. In 1994-95 he was President of the then Secondary Heads Association, now the Association of School and College Leaders. He is now a Liberal Democrat county councillor in Cambridgeshire and the education spokesman. In 1998 he was awarded the OBE for ‘services to education management’. He writes in a personal capacity.

Read more by .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • mike cobley 6th Jun '10 - 3:09pm

    I have to agree. The coalition policy on opting out schools seems calculated to lead us to schools that are either dungeons or ivory towers; the dungeon schools get left for the cash-strapped local authorities to run somehow while the ivory towers float off in a cloud of high quality provision insulated from the unwashed herd. Or at least thats how it seems to me.

  • I totally agree. This is naked anti-state ideology dressed up as ‘choice’. I really didn’t think that any government could mess up the system more than the last mob but it seems I was wrong. As a parent of two young children, the eldest of whom is about to enter the school system, the coalition’s proposals are terrifying and have alarmed us so much that we’re seriously considering emigrating for the sake of our kids.

  • David Davies 6th Jun '10 - 4:41pm

    A superbly argued crtique of this policy which reflects in almost ever detail the position of Welsh Labour and the policy it has implemented in the Welsh Government. Like so many of your colleagues it may be time to consider joining a party closer to your clearly stated idealological roots. Your party have unfortunately been infiltrated and taken over by a centre right conspiracy. Sad but true.

  • An excellent article. Just an aside though, the term bog standard seems to lose a little in translation from north to south. As a northerner I understand this term to mean of an average, unadorned standard. Some cite the derivation of the term as being a mispronunciation of the term ‘box standard’. I never understood Alistair Campbell to be denouncing schools as of ‘toilet quality’ but to be proclaiming an end to the notion of a ‘one size fits all’ approach to comprehensive schools. So when you, Mr. Downes talk of comprehensive schools ‘sinking even further into the bog’, I find that to imply that you think they are already in the bog. It jars in a way that Campbell’s original comment never did. I always thought that this ‘bog’ interpretation was just a matter of the press wilfully misrepresenting in order to spin against him, I now think it is just another manifestation of the north/south divide.

  • A fine article, passionately argued. Absolutely agree. There is no sense in the current policy direction. At a practical level, it will not deliver greater efficiency. On the most optimistic reading, it will deliver better quality for the children of those parents who are favourably placed to work the system , while leaving many thousands of children with diminished educational opportunities and costing more. And I think that overstates the benefits.

    The policy would (and should) have no place in a politically progressive agenda committed to fairness and equality. We might expect it from the Conservatives, for whom any commitment to equality rather than elitism is a rather thin veneer, but it is disappointing that it is not contested more strongly by the Lib Dems.

  • Keith Browning 6th Jun '10 - 5:56pm

    Until OFSTED appeared to check them out, the country was littered with ‘small private’ schools owned and run by a strange collection of individuals that probably wouldn’t pass a police check now. The schools were normally housed in old Victorian mansions, with 1960s low cost extensions tacked on the back. The clientele was often as strange as the head teachers who ran them. They did sometimes attract the sons and daughters of well meaning parents who were trying to do the best for their offspring, particularly those children who couldn’t cope with life in a large comprehensive.

    Strange, that as almost all of these schools have now closed, with most sold and bulldozed to be replaced by gated apartment complexes, the intention seems to replace them with replicas of the old failed blueprint.

  • Excellent article, can’t find anything much to disagree with.

    Free schools is my least favourite policy in the coalition document. A lot will depend on how / when it’s implemented, but I’m very uncomfortable with the whole idea. Still, I’d much rather have Michael Gove constrained somewhat by Sarah Teather than Gove acting alone. I’m sure Sarah will fight her corner well.

    Labour members complaining on here seem to forget that their own party has been one of the biggest cheerleaders for Academies.

  • Richard Hill 6th Jun '10 - 7:48pm

    So all the good schools and all the good pupils go into the free school system . The local authoritie s are left with most of the poor schools and disadvantaged children. Great! They will just have to concentrate on the schools and pupils that really need it. Prehaps they might be able to do things where it is really needed and make s difference because it don’t look that good to me at the moment.

  • Both points are valid for the pupil premium. It will go to students from poor backgrounds (exact definition tba), and as such schools have an incentive to accept them. There is no contradiction here. Getting this funded is something that we can be very, very proud of as a party.

    I struggle to understand the opposition to academies and free schools myself. Apparently 1000 heads are keen to apply asap – do we really think that all the heads are out to “do in” some group of kids, either those in their school or others? I don’t – I think these heads should be trusted. One deputy head (Labour member) told me he was in favour of his school becoming an academy because the LA was so hopeless, particularly over admissions. Equally, we already have free schools at nursery level, where anyone – including for profit groups – can open a nursery and get the govt vouchers if they pass certain standards. Has the world of nurseries collapsed? No, quite the reverse – we have more than ever, with greater variety in a way that parents seem to like.

    This is a passionately argued article, but I don’t see the evidence to support the arguments.

  • Ron

    It is 1000, not 100, who have apparently requested packs – and only OFSTED outstanding schools were invited to apply. So it is not the case that 24,900 or even 24,000 have declined to become academies. Of course all heads should be listened to – those who want to stay as LA schools can.

    I only wish univs could have the same freedoms!


  • OhNoNotAgain 6th Jun '10 - 9:56pm

    Good article. Academies under New Labour were largely resisted by local communities and at least had the merit of trying to improve the worst of schools. The coalition policy though is the opposite – to create a two tier system by allowing the ‘outstanding schools’ to set up as academies without even local consultation. How on earth does this fit with localism (lib dems) and Big Society (Tories)? It will be up to the governors to decide and the National Governors Association have complained that the letters have been sent to headteachers. And they may have registered an interest without consulting them. Those that oppose this policy can act by writing to the governors of their school. There is a model letter at the anti-academy alliance website http://www.antiacademies.org.uk/.

    My daughter went to an academy school that set completely different term dates and school hours. It was a logistical nightmare. Parents were not allowed any involvement, were not consulted and were often not even contacted to make tea for social events. The head teacher became increasing autocratic.The good teachers returned to comprehensives, leaving a very young (and not very capable) staff. This is an ill-thought through policy. Local authorities provide a service and do not control schools. I know of another academy school where the Head Teacher negotiated a pension packet prior to taking the job and then swiftly took early retirement – leaving the school with a huge pot of money to find.

  • Ron
    Not sure I get the reference to 4. I am certainly happy for them to do it without the LA’s permission, although I think some sort of parental support should be sought. That said, my own preference is to heavily penalise schools that do not attract kids, which should be enough to prevent schools of all types being run in a way that does not get support from the community, on an ongoing and sustainable basis.

  • OhNoNotAgain 6th Jun '10 - 11:23pm

    Sweden has pointed out that they only way for this policy to work is to have an oversupply of places so that it is genuinely competitive – on a permanent basis. This is expensive and completely impractical in the present financial crisis. The evidence is that people want good local community schools, and the role of local authorities (as elected bodies) is to enable this. Freeing schools from local control is absurd – it i saying that schools need to be free from local democracy. How can Lib Dems support this?

  • I hate to tell you guys, but the vast majority of the public simply dont care about the structures behind schools. They only care about whether their local school is good or not. There is too much ideology in the opposition to this. From what I can see the real issues are the cost associated with the inevitable oversupply of places.

  • Oh no not again – we support it partly because we are in coalition – you don’t get everything you want!
    The NHS is free from local democracy, but we have never campaigned against that. GPs, in particular, are akin to free schools in many ways – again, it seems to work, and we don’t campaign against it.

  • David Allen 7th Jun '10 - 1:08am

    “How can Lib Dems support this?”

    Well. For some considerable time now, I have campaigned on this site against Nick Clegg’s hidden agenda – to realign the British political centre-right, and to create a stable and enduring right-wing alliance (or merger?) between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. This has brought a mixed reaction. Many people simply did not believe that Clegg was as single-minded or as duplicitous as it appeared. Others, from the new Right of our party, variously argued that I must be talking nonsense, or that I must be exaggerating, or that anyway it didn’t really matter much, for one reason or another.

    Well. Now it has happened. Game.set and match to Clegg. A dream result from his point of view. As an unexpected bonus, it turns out to have been Cameron’s dream result too. Clearly, Cameron actually prefers coalition to one-party rule. He has made generous concessions on policy and personnel to bring the Lib Dems on board, and to make permanent alliance a realistic possibility.

    Not a single one of Clegg’s predecessors as party leader has been happy to endorse what has happened. All, to varying extents, have harboured deep misgivings. But an iron logic has bound us. We believe in the idea of coalition, of broader than one-party government. We have found Labour unable and unwilling to consider the idea seriously. We have found the Tories willing to work with us, and prepared to give us the chance to achieve many cherished aims, provided they can do likewise. Our choice has been to accept a seriously flawed partnership – or, to let the Tories rule alone, unconstrained, free to cut as they like, and to favour their rich backers just as they like.

    I support the coalition. Frankly, in a good mood, I compliment myself on my great maturity of judgment, on my ability to rethink an issue and put good government and the public interest ahead of the obvious impulse to yell “Told you so!”. And in a bad mood, I think I am a stupid unprincipled wimp, who should have the courage to abandon the party I joined nearly thirty years ago, and fight against the terrible mistakes it threatens to make.

    The free schools question is an acid test on these issues. Clearly the Tories will claim – and perhaps fairly – that we have made a deal, that we are entitled to its benefits for ourselves, and that they are entitled to pursue their ideal of a free schools revolution. Of course it is regressive, of course it will increase social inequality, of course that is what it is designed to do.

    How can we reasonably fight from within the coalition? We must have the freedom to argue the case, in public and in private, and as a party we must show our deep disquiet.

    Where are our allies? Well, in the Treasury for a start. The policy will be wasteful and expensive. There must be a real prospect of getting it severely cut back and delayed on cost grounds alone.

    Should we feel content? Of course not. But we should monitor our wins and our losses as they happen. We may have to accept things we don’t like – provided we also see things that we do like.

    Yes, this is a pretty poor way to conclude a posting. It will have to do.

  • OhNoNotAgain 7th Jun '10 - 1:16am

    Yes its a coalition but since when did your party being in government mean not opposing a policy proposed by your leadership that you don’t like. Fiona Millar (wife of Alistair Campbell) is a party loyalist but has always opposed academies.

    GPs are vastly difference for all sorts of reasons. In particular, supply. It is nearly always possible to go to the GP practice of choice and It is possible to change to a different GP within a practice or go to a different practice. This is not the case with schools where popular schools are oversubscribed. The outstanding schools are working well within the current structures – why change this? What is the purpose? How will this help the weaker schools? It is the decision to change the status of these schools which seems ideologically driven.

  • Testing one two three

  • Test posting from mobile device

  • OhNoNotAgain 7th Jun '10 - 8:42am

    David, It seems to me the biggest fault line in the coalition is the education policy and LIb Dems do need to engage with this. Those that say it is a coalition and we have to ‘hold our noses’ at some policies will cause disillusionment with the party. I for one don’t mind this as it seems to me the party is not at all progressive but neo-liberal – I regret voting for it 3 out of the last 4 elections. I believed the progressive label but I was unaware of the Orange Book group – more fool me. Just as New Labour through out Clause 4 Lib Dems are throwing out their Liberal agenda. We are all in a big neo-liberal tent now. So for me there is only two choices: foster a child and get on with life as best I can or genuine progressive alliances locally and nationally. The Canadian experience is a salutary one for anyone who thinks the cuts are going to be kind. They will dig deeper and deeper into the poor and will damage services. It is inevitable the option of tax and growth will not be contemplated because, although the bankers created the crisis, it is the poor who always pay the most. Every one else is well-heeled enough to fight better. The school policy just fits this neo-liberalism.

  • What this article singularly fails to address is the usual elephant in the room – any system which DOESN’T use academic selection will ultimately favour the better off at the expense of the less well off, due to their ability to cluster using house prices as a selection method.

    Remember it was (to put it crudely) the middle class parents of the tim nice but dims who put paid to grammar schools.

    If we really want to encourage aspiration from the most disadvantaged sector we should go for academic selection, to allow those most at risk from an anti academic culture to escape those prressures and thrive.

  • ONNA please explain to me what is “progressive” about the Labour Party.

    Come to that, define “progressive”. It is a much overused term that AFAICS doesn’t mean anything.

  • Good point about selection Tabman. I really wish that all those who supported the abolition of assisted places scheme would have to come forward and explain exactly how it has benefited the poor.

  • OhNoNotAgain 7th Jun '10 - 9:45am

    There are alternatives to academic selection. This includes selection by lottery, selection by testing – and then allocating children by merit to different schools (each taking 10% in each merit band) or even just continuing to improve community schools – the idea of a pupil premium in that context is excellent. I would also look at Finland’s model and consider how to reduce class sizes further using assistants, managing discipline, and managing SEN better. Labours policy on SEN was excellent but the practice was terrible – and a big reason for failure in classrooms.

    Since when did I describe Labour as progressive? I am describing it as neo-liberal (as in we are all in a big neo-liberal tent). I fear that there will be many years of hardship for the poor and I fear the destruction of services. I am thinking of fostering because I do fear that a ‘progressive’ alliance (whatever that means) will fail to stop the neo-liberal destruction and I may be better of trying to make one child’s life better. I am thinking of the Green Party as a more hopeful alternative.

  • Oh lord. Yes, support the wholesale destruction of the economy – that’ll help the poor. You have seen how just 18 months of economic contraction hurts the poor most, and yet you would support instead a party that whose policies will lead to decades of economic stagnation and shrinkage. Nice move… Bite. Nose. Spite. Face.

  • OhNoNotAgain 7th Jun '10 - 10:06am

    After witnessing the destruction of Thatcherism I have no patience with this argument. Lib Dems are going to lose, over time, all their progressive policies and I fear are not going to challenge the Academies policy which they know to be wrong at a grass roots level. I therefore don’t believe this to be a party which I can support. They will hide behind support for the coalition but the result will be the destruction of Lib Dems just as Labour has been damaged by rescuing the banks for the neo-liberals.

  • ONNA – I’m still struggling to understand what you mean by progressive.

    What we have at present is a system geared towards mediocrity. How that benefits the least well off I have no idea.

    My question of you is this – in a culture which denigrates academic achievement, how do you protect those most vulnerable to it ie without selection?

  • Thanks for this posting.
    David Allen asks a really pertinent question in his comment: How can we reasonably fight from within the coalition?
    “Academies” is just one subject where legislation needs challenging through Parliament. We need to learn how to influence this process so that we get the best out of the coalition. We need to involve the electorate, whenever appropriate, thus also giving them a voice. And we need to show the media that this is what we are doing, democratically and appropriately, to improve legislation, not undermine the coalition.
    Any thoughts?

  • Richard Hill 7th Jun '10 - 11:24am

    If by being progressive means putting ones head in the sand and not facing reality, count me out.
    If somebody is a good dancer send them to a dancing school.
    If some one is a musical prodigy let them have specialists enhance their gift.
    If someone has academic potential make sure they do not have any preferencial help, they might take over the world and control us all.
    Paranoia comes to mind, we need the best people we can find to get us out of this mess.

  • Richard Hill – exactly.

    The real problem is that many able children are in school environments where they are denigrated and discouraged from fulfilling their potential. Whatever their other flaws, the pervading culture within grammar schools was the pursuit of academic excellence and learning for its own sake; a culture that sadly is lacking from many comprehensive schools.

  • OhNoNotAgain 7th Jun '10 - 12:03pm

    Clearly there are people posting who want a return to selection but this is not what academies are about so I think this argument is misplaced here. But anyone arguing for selection needs to have a view on the 70% (or whatever figure) who fail the selection – it is for this reason that a return to selection is so unpopular. Finland achieves the best educational system in the world without selection so it is not inevitable. Sociey is not just about meritocracy it is about social justice.

    The argument is about academies and free schools, and whether Lib Dems can find a way to resist policies that may not be core to Lib Dem values. My concern is that I can’t see this and I then reflect on the neo-liberalism of the economic agenda and believe it is time to ally with others who are more progressive. Shouting at me that I am cutting of my nose to spite my face is not an argument that holds much currecy.

  • Richard Hill 7th Jun '10 - 12:07pm

    They did not fail anything they just want to be taught about the things they are good at. Cause they are just like me is.

  • OhNoNotAgain 7th Jun '10 - 12:38pm

    Richard, Not sure whether you are arguing for or against academies and free schools – or what you are arguing at all. Specialist schools, specialism within schools, …. so can’t engage with this.

    My concern is that Lib Dems were not in favour of academies pre-election and are now silenced by the coalition deal. My question is what, if this is a big issue for me, what should I (and others like me) do? I am not really interested in debating selection, specialist schools, etc. Academies and free schools are what is on the table.

  • David Allen 7th Jun '10 - 1:31pm


    Of course we have to engage with issues such as free schools while supporting the coalition. Lucy Care makes the key point. We need to get away from having to make a false choice betwen loyalism and oppositionalism.

    You mention a Labour “rebel” who took issue with her party’s government on a specific issue. I would argue that we are not in the same position. “Rebellion” should not just be something that only a few malcontents do on a few occasions. Instead, we should acknowledge that many of us, much of the time, will disagree with the official coalition line. (But to be fair, we will have to accept that many Tories may want to do likewise!)

  • ONNA – you can’t divorce the cultural context. Does Finland have a culture of anti-intellectualism? It certianly has a far more homgeneous society than we do.

  • I believe this thread once again highlights possibly the biggest danger for us as a party. I’m astonished at how much ground our negotiators gave on education. The partial pupil premium (only marginally improved from previous quasi premiums used in some funding initaitives by Lab) is a woefully inadequate counterweight to the inversion and expansion of the academy programme.

  • Matthew Huntbach 7th Jun '10 - 5:26pm

    In deciding where to draw a line in negotiations for the coalition, and where to stand firm, I’m happy for “academies” and “free schools” to be given away in return e.g. for firmness on Capital Gains Tax.

    The Tory policies are silly and are largely based on the notion, common amongst Tory politicians and the commentariat, that the problem with schools is that they are run by the council. They are not, local government has almost no say on what goes on in them, but Tories and the commentariat don’t know that because they mostly send their kids to private schools.

    Also, any bunch of parents who fancied running a school could probably quite easily do so already, because there is a chronic shortage of people wiling to take on the increasingly onerous but still unpaid job of being a school governor. My wife some years ago unexpectedly found herself in the position of being Chair of governors of a local primary school, and I was amazed at just how much control that actually gave her. So who needs “free schools” when most of what they are supposed to provide is already there? But the commentariat and the Tories talk about these things on the basis of the same useless out-of-touch way that they do about most things that don’t involve people like them.

    Free schools would simply mean writing a blank cheque and would be purely extra cost, because they have to come on top of existing capacity.

    So, let them try this and see for themselves how silly it is, they’ll learn. Or at least they’ll throw a lot of money at it, and find their fancy theories don’t work, then we can say “told you so”.

  • @Matthew H. Yes the Coalition policy is silly but its potential impact is serious.If several schools become academies then local authorities will be forced to shrink their services to schools. Smaller authorities are going to struggle with advisers, CPD, special needs provision,governor services etc as academies will not buy all of these back. The Tories welcome this application of the market to local authorities. We do not (usually) and need to make sure we do not support the move to a less accountable and more fragmented system.

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Jun '10 - 9:44am

    AlexKN – yes. Make sure you have it all written down now, so that you can say “I told you so” with authority when it happens. The coalition is going to have to work like that – we have to leave enough of a paper trail, so that when we concede to the Tories on their pet issues we can fight back when the time comes to defend ourselves electorally. They’re doing the same – if CGT rises and AV go belly-up in practice, you can see they’re planning for the “not our baby, guv” line.

  • OhNoNotAgain 8th Jun '10 - 10:08am

    Voters will punish both parties for bad policies – you just better hope Academies and Free Schools works, fails before anyone notices a bad smell, or is not a vote clincher. I am off now to do something more useful with my life than contribute to Lib Dem Voice.

  • Wendy Vause 6th May '11 - 1:05pm

    Hi Peter,
    I am a research student at Lincoln University doing a doctorate in Education Research and Development, and my thesis is an evaluation of the education policy of the coalition government. I would like to get in touch with you for discussion.
    Hope to hear from you.
    Wendy Vause

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Steve Trevethan
    The inherent flaws in Neoliberalism are becoming ever more evident. They include homelessness, hunger, dangerous and collapsing schools etc., understaffed infra...
  • Tristan Ward
    @David Evans "Indeed if we just get out and talk to them, it is clear that they are traditional old school liberals" and are dropping like flies. My exp...
  • Geoff Reid
    Let's be thankful (1) for Caron's initial stance and (2) for small mercies! Ed did slip in a line about our local council by-election gains being streets ahead ...
  • Mary Fulton
    The most up-to-date figures (15th February, 2024) produced by the UNHCR record 253,160 refugees in the UK. This is tiny compared to the three largest countries ...
  • David Evans
    Apologies Tristran, my earlier comment should have been addressed to you and not Martin. Apologies to Martin as well....