There is no limit to what can be accomplished if it doesn’t matter who gets the credit
Ralph Waldo Emerson
In the interests of full disclosure I’ll start by saying that I know a couple of people involved with Free Schools very well. One is a Headteacher, the other a founder of a Free School. Unequivocally they are, and will be, running brilliant schools. The children who go there will get a fantastic education. They are kind, decent, honest, hard-working professional people. Their schools will be excellent examples of the best state maintained schools. None of this detracts from anything that any other school is doing. In ten years time they will be just “schools”. Very good schools, but nonetheless, just “schools”.
Now for two statements of the bleeding obvious.
One, we need more schools. No if, no buts. We need more schools.
Two, we are where we are. We’re not where everyone would like us to be, but that’s life. We are where we are.
Now, we can either succumb to the likes of the Mad Hatter and change things so that we can put #winning at the end of our tweets! Or we can call everyone that doesn’t want to smash Free Schools a traitor to the comprehensive ideal.
Or we can just do what needs doing and carry on opening new schools.
As I understand it, any new school currently has to go through the “Free School” route. Due to a combination of law, regulation and sheer bloody mindedness on the part of DfE. To be honest, I don’t care what they are called. I only care that they are good community based schools. What has to change here is not the law, but the mindset. The mindset that says we don’t care if we are handing these English children over to a bunch of segregationists who don’t understand safeguarding, or putting them in the care of a teenage Headteacher. This has to change because it is dangerous.
The other mindset has to change as well. The one that says the only way a school can be properly rooted in the community is for it to be controlled by a local authority. Sorry, but too many of those failed to make me want to mandate that as the default.
The creation of new schools needs to be agile because we are going to need them quickly. It will have to be done in a different way to that which many would prefer. That doesn’t mean we have to take the inane risks that DfE currently feel necessary. It is possible to listen to alternative views and accept some of their arguments without appearing weak. The biggest failure of the DfE has been to believe that its ‘project’ would be weakened by listening to those who have counselled against some of their more ridiculous decisions. Adherence to ideology in the face of contrary information is not a sign of strength.
We also can’t afford another disaster of a process that was BSF, where the desire to do everything perfectly prevented anything from happening at all.
So yes, I want it both ways. I want it to be quicker than BSF and more careful than the current Free Schools process. Generally speaking, more pragmatic.
How do we move forward from here?
The first thing is to learn from mistakes. Schools need experienced professionals to run them. That does not mean only experienced school leaders can start schools, but it does mean they have to be involved, and, at the operational level, in control.
Secondly, it is important to weed out the extremes. Well, that’s easily said. Frankly, it’s also easily done. I’ll start a list. No creationists. No one who thinks its a good idea to segregate boys and girls and teach them different things. No climate change deniers. No one who thinks its a good idea to cross out bits of exam papers so they aren’t seen by the students. Please feel free to add to the list. Yes, this is a personal list. BUT THATS WHY NO ONE PERSON, WITH A PARTICULAR IDEOLOGY, SHOULD EVER BE LEFT IN SOLE CHARGE OF MAKING SUCH DECISIONS. So the process is important, and it has to be non-partisan.
Thirdly, new schools have to be very clearly rooted in the community. For me, this means that parents have to be in control. The chair and the majority of governors have to be parents of children at the school. This will help the school to properly reflect the needs of the community. And if they get it wrong? Well we already have strong enough controls to change the leadership of any school where that is failing.
Fourthly, the secrecy has to stop. The only reason to be carrying out the Free Schools process in such secrecy is because there is something to hide. It is essential that a light is shone on the process. This will help with all three of the issues above.
I think I’m right in saying that none of the above requires legislation. No need to grandstand in parliament. Just some small subtle changes to make a system work better.
No need for someone to claim they are #winning
No traitors to be dragged forward proclaiming the error of their ways.
Perhaps that’s why they won’t happen.