Opinion: Tory school plans will give parents nightmares

Monday’s Today Programme on Radio 4 majored on local government.

It was the usual shambles. We were told that local authorities were expecting to make cuts in services – hardly news. One reporter told us that libraries were not used by many people – in fact had she spent ten minutes on research she would have discovered that libraries are visited by half the adult population each year. This makes libraries far more popular than any if not all of the sporting events on which the BBC lavishes time and our money each year.

Another reporter told us that local authorities were likely to cut teachers and classroom assistants. This was a Bobby Ewing moment: local authorities could emerge from the shower and discover that years of local management of schools and direct school funding had been but a dream and they were back in control of schools and their budgets.

We were also told, more or less accurately if somewhat prematurely (the Today Programme likes to report news in advance), that parents were about to receive the results of their secondary school admissions applications. Some would be disappointed with their allocations.

The problem with this was the failure to connect to another item, namely the Tory proposals to make it possible for any school to be an Academy. A reporter told us that under Tory plans schools wishing to become academies would no longer have to consult local authorities, who tend to get in the way. The inference was clear: local authorities were just a nuisance, ideologically driven sociopaths standing in the way of reason and liberation.

No doubt some are. But one principal objection to academies is that they can set their own admissions rules. This takes us back to grant-maintained schools, introduced by Thatcher is her assault on the concept of society in favour of individualism. With each school setting its own admissions rules, there is precious little room for cohesive planning of school places or for ensuring all children have an equal chance. Even without formal selection, rules based on geography can ensure that children from certain areas are at a permanent disadvantage.

It also means that parents have to apply for several schools simultaneously (sometimes all the schools in a town if moving into an area) rather than simply asking the local authority to find a place.

This problem of course already exists in places but the Tories plan to make it universal. And there are those in the free school movement who feel that the right of parents (or religious nutters or multinationals) to set up schools where they wish regardless of the interests of other parents or the needs of a community should not even be subject to a local authority’s planning powers.

So if finding a secondary school place for a child gives you a sleepless night this week, look ahead to the nightmares under Michael Gove.

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3 Comments

  • Why the Tories think that passing legislation to allow as many schools as possible to become Academies should be one of their urgent priorities if they win completely baffles me. Is it a dog-whistle to their core voters about bringing back selection through the back door? The vast majority of local education authorities are controlled by Tories anyway, so what Gove and Cameron are essentially saying is that they don’t trust their own councillors to run education services. And if they think that there are hordes of middle class parents out there desperate to get involved in the running of their childrens’ schools then I think they are out of touch with reality. My guess is that most parents of school age children are far too busy trying to earn enough to pay the mortgage to be able to put in the time necessary to run schools.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Mar '10 - 10:10am


    The problem with this was the failure to connect to another item, namely the Tory proposals to make it possible for any school to be an Academy. A reporter told us that under Tory plans schools wishing to become academies would no longer have to consult local authorities, who tend to get in the way. The inference was clear: local authorities were just a nuisance, ideologically driven sociopaths standing in the way of reason and liberation

    The last time the Tories were in government, their wizard plan for education was to impose rigid state control on schools, with the national curriculum and state imposed testing regime, on the grounds that school staff could not be trusted to teach properly and the problem was all these weirdo teachers doing their own thing. Now their wizard plan is the exact opposite. One could just about forgive them if they could say “we were wrong last time” or “we’re going to bin our photos of Margaret Thatcher because her government stood against all we now think is right on education”.

    What this reveals, however, is that their real position is “We’re clueless fools – we have no idea about how state education works (not surprising as we all went to Eton etc) – so we’ll just jump on the latest bandwagon, which makes it sound as if we’re thinking on these issues”.

    The real solution is to mend the broken society, as they say. But who broke it – Margaret Thatcher’s government. It was that government which destroyed the decent British co-operative way of living, which erected money as the God we should worship, which made city spivs our real rulers at least until they sold out to foreign potentates, which smashed up British communities, throwing people out of work and causing misery and depression which has never been fully cured, which made it clear that decent honest hard work counted for nothing, that real wealth is made by having the right connections and by speculation, and the only thing that matters in this society is being a bully who gets ahead by pushing down on others.

  • Matthew Huntbach 3rd Mar '10 - 10:14am


    What Gove and Cameron are essentially saying is that they don’t trust their own councillors to run education services.

    They are too thick, or ignorant due to the only schools they really know about being Eton etc, to realise they don’t anyway. The job of the council is to take the money the government gives it for the purpose and pass it on to the schools. The council doesn’t run the schools. It has no say on what goes on inside them.

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