The media has been obsessed this week with what position Stephen Twigg, the new secretary of state for education, will take on free schools. While Twigg was probably unwise to give interviews on such a controversial policy within days of being appointed to the post, his latest, more considered, view on the matter seems largely sensible.
I would take issue with his sweeping claim that ‘parents know that the real difference to their child getting ahead is not what is painted on the sign outside the school, but what happens inside the classroom.’. Obviously, the issues of selection/admissions and funding are crucial to the success of a school and its pupils. But it was ever thus……
Meanwhile, in a fascinating exchange on the Local Schools Network concerning the example of the charter school/free school experiment in America, leading free school supporter and founder Toby Young, who had enjoyed taunting Twigg this week, came clean on the policy’s true objective: to allow schools to fail. It is only by letting schools open and close, Young claims, that we can truly learn what kind of innovation works.
Well, I can save Toby years of market based experimentation, with all the disappointment and failure it will bring to generations of students. We already know what makes schools successful. While the majority of the US’s charter schools do not improve on public (state) schools performance, those that do have millions of philanthropically sourced extra money poured into them. Fine, perhaps, if you are living and learning in the Harlem Children’s Zone where cradle to college investment is so impressive; too bad if you are at one of the rogue US charter schools where you will mainly learn about the perils of an unregulated, market based approach.
There’s nothing new in all this. Keith Joseph was singing the praises of bankruptcy in relation to the public services decades ago. For him too, human capital takes low priority in such a schema.
Still, we should be grateful to Toby for so baldly setting out the fundamental objectives of current education policy. The Coalition does not dare.