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← Three Developments in British Education

alphcat's Avatar Jump to comment 20 by alphcat

comment 16 Nordic

As an American, I don't understand the difference between free schools and academies. Are both of these private? If so, is the Bristish government allowed to legislate to private schools what they teach? I'm a bit confused

I'm not surprised you are confused, so are most of the people in Britain. Basically before 2010, there were state schools which were free to everyone (I think you call them public schools?) and private schools which were fee paying. There were many different types of state school reflecting the slow move towards universal education, so we had state faith schools opened in the past by churches, state grammar schools, state comprehensive, grant maintained etc etc etc.

However despite the different titles state schools go by, by and large all were funded (or largely funded in the case of state faith schools) by the state. In addition to that they would all be under the umbrella of a Local Education Authority (LEA) which would deal with things like admissions, payroll, HR, health and safety inspections etc. Part of each schools annual budget would go to the LEA to fund these things.

As state schools ALL were required to follow the National Curriculum laid down by the department of education and ALL were inspected by Ofsted and graded from outstanding to special measures or fail. Ofsted inspected all subjects taught in non faith state schools and all subjects bar RE (religious education) in faith schools. Faith schools would have their own inspectorates for RE only. Despite the different names, most schools differed only in the quality of education offered and their intake rather than content. You could move from school to school and find very little differences in what was taught - maybe Spanish rather than German or The American West rather than the WWII but despite what folk like to believe, shools were pretty homogenous in what they taught. There were huge differences in quality - for example some schools are outstanding in every way, others are failing their pupils, which is why you may have heard things like the faith schools debate where parents avoided poorly performing local schools by pretending to be religious or pretending to live somewhere that they didn't. But that is a different issue.

The last govt in a move to help pupils in areas of disadvantage where schools tended to be poorer started the first academies, funded by private money but still free to use. They were patchy and identified the first real threat from religious fundamentalists by allowing them to fund some academies. The last govt also opened a can of worms by allowing expansion of faith schools. The existing faith schools were largely CofE and RC had been around for years and years and like most of their pupils had largely lost a lot of their religious fervour in favour of being schools.

In 2010, a new government and a new secretary of state for education decided to expand the academies scheme and introduce something new - Free Schools. The new academy legislation allows existing state schools, initiailly with an outstanding rating, to opt out of LEA control and to be given all of its budgets. They become, in effect, mini businesses funded by the state, still free to all pupils but with far greater control over things like admissions and what they teach! As this coincided with a squeeze on funds lots of schools jumped on the bandwagon. In reality it has been a nightmare, without the money from all schools LEAs have lost economies of scale and staff, whilst schools are finding they are having to buy in things like payroll and HR.

At the same time Gove (our secretary of state for education) decided parents needed more freedom in the types of schools and so introduced legislation to allow anyone that fancied the right to open a school free from any state interference but funded by the state. Now anyone with half a brain (and half a brain would be a real improvement for Gove) could see that apart from a few middle class parents in areas with poorly performing schools (such as Toby Young the champion of free schools and one of the first wave of free schools) the people this would most appeal to were nutters with an an agenda to spread their nuttiness. Religious nutters from extremely odd creationist sects, Steiner followers who believed the weird writings of some hippy, Yogis and peddlers of all sorts of whacky woo ideas. And that is how it has been, which was why the original legislation allowing free schools to teach pretty much what they wanted had to be moderated to exclude creationism!

And how popular are these free schools, free by and large to teach whatever they want with taxpayers money? Not very. Every survey of parents has found that what they want are good, local, normal schools! Not yogic schools or overtly religious schools or strange Steiner ideas, just a better version of what they had, teaching normal subjects. And the free schools that have managed to fill their places? They are the ones that are like schools! Like Toby Youngs free school. Gove was just too thick to understand that parents didn't want choice they wanted opportunity.

So free schools and academies are not private (yet) but are supposedly free to teach what they want. Academies will in all probality remain as they are, being staffed by existing teachers. They will probably attempt to improve their intake by avoiding poorly behaved or special needs pupils but will most likely continue to educate. Free schools? Who knows, they are a real gravy train. Whilst our real schools lose funds hand over fist they are handed money to build completely new and untried schools. Largely run by people with little or no experience. Many are struggling to fill all their places. An expensive experiment with horrendous consequences for the children that have to attend.

Wed, 13 Jun 2012 10:53:57 UTC | #947175