Skim-reading through the party political manifestos and some of the press last week made for fairly confusing, sometimes depressing – and, once in a while, entertaining reading. As we might expect, education – and specifically how schools are controlled – was once again either at the forefront of national debate, or a political football, depending on how you view the situation!
Whether the control of schools should be taken away from the ‘state’ and given to ‘society’ (if society wants the job!), and what form ‘parent power’ should actually take, seems to be one crux of the debate between Tories and Labour.
The Guardian reported that a 51-strong group of headteachers had slated the Tories’ plans to give parents the freedom to set up schools, saying they feared “across-the-board cuts” to schooling under the Conservatives. But a Conservative spokesman said they wanted to give heads and teachers more control of schools, and claimed over a hundred headteachers support their proposals for taking on greater freedoms.
A reader then chimed in that the 51-strong group was no more than an “organised network of Labour cheerleaders”!
In the same piece, Labour said the Tories’ plans would result in a “postcode lottery” for education – a comment that was also promptly pounced upon by readers: “Conservative plans would create a postcode lottery? I’m already in one and my children are losing out badly,” opined one.
Meanwhile over on the Daily Telegraph blogs, Toby Young announced his intention to vote Conservative because he’s leading the efforts of a group of parents to set up a new kind of secondary school in Ealing. He saw a clear difference between the parties, in that under the Tories there would be a gradual move of education away from the state and towards ‘society’, whereas, according to him: “under Labour we’d be blocked at every step of the way…. we’d face one bureaucratic hurdle after another.”
Toby Young might want to set up his own school, but it seems not everyone feels the same way: Channel 4 News featured Jon Snow conducting some entertaining high street vox pops about the Conservative manifesto launch with the people of recession-hit Dartford in Kent – 13th on the list of Tory target seats:
Snow: “Tory party manifesto: it’s going to be ‘power to the people’.”
Woman in street: “That’s probably just a gimmick though, innit?”
Snow: “He [Cameron?] thinks it would be a good idea – if you wanted to and weren’t happy with the local school, you could set up your own. What about that?”
Woman in street: “I don’t think that’s ever going to happen in reality, do you?”
Second woman: “I can’t see it being like that either, you know: just going out and setting up your own school and that.”
First woman: “It’s like setting up our own NHS and our own doctors and our own dentists; they can’t do a decent job of it so they’re palming onto the public!”
Labour’s response to ‘drive up standards’ and offer ‘parent power’ is apparently to take over schools, offer mergers, accelerate the academies programme and end “take it or leave it” services, while the Lib Dems pledge to replace academies with schools accountable to local authorities, with a charity or parent group as a sponsor.
So how should our schools be controlled? Is this even the most important education question? And which of the parties’ policies will actually see the light of day, and will we have to live with until the next election?