Monday, 15 February 2010

Osborne's plan for William Tyndale Mark 2

Until today, the Tories had the makings of a coherent education policy. They were planning to encourage the development of free schools on Swedish lines and extend Labour's academies programme. Parents or teachers were to have the chance to set up new schools, which in reality would have involved their engaging with other providers, many of which have developed in recent years to run academies. Heads would have been given more say over curriculum and pay. There were big questions over funding, curriculum and admissions enforcement, but the policy offered the chance of a sensible mix of continuity and innovation.

Now, in a batty wheeze, George Osborne comes along to undermine Gove's efforts with his plans to empower the Socialist Workers Party with a battery of 'workers co-op' schools. Presumably this will open the door to schools run along the lines of the notorious William Tyndale school in Islington, in the mid-seventies, the school whose antics led directly to Jim Callaghan's famous Ruskin speech and the accountability we have today? (Do read this terrific piece by Jill Tweedie from the Guardian archive showing how working class kids lost out.) I appreciate that Boy George was probably not yet born in 1976, but its philosophy was best summed up by its headteacher Terry Ellis who declared: "I don't give a damn about parents". With this in mind, perhaps the shadow chancellor could explain how parents' and pupils' interests - or the authority of the headteacher - might be preserved in schools where teachers can opt to exercise a takeover at any moment?

Of course, there is a role for co-operative schools, and the government has promoted a range of trust schools along these lines. But as Michael Stephenson, general secretary of the Co-operative Party, put it today:
"George Osborne's comments show the Tories are completely clueless on co-operatives. Mutuality is about giving communities a say in how services are run. That is about more than involving workers, it is about people running services as a community asset. The Tories don't have co-operative values.....George Osborne's plan for employee-run public services fails to balance the needs of consumers, the public, with the interests of the public-sector workers themselves."

UPDATE 1: Tessa Jowell has more here on Labour's co-op trust schools. The key point is that they are not simply run in the interests of the teachers, but for those of parents too. That may be what David Cameron spoke about two years ago; it is not what today's policy suggests.

UPDATE 2: James Crabtree at Prospect seems also not to recognise the difference between a mutual which is owned by the community and allowing the workers to take over an existing service. Without substantial safeguards, the Osborne plan could actually prevent other radical proposals on new academies that would be in pupils' interests, or necessary school mergers.

This posting has been picked up by the TES.

1 comment:

oldandrew said...

That Jill Tweedie article is great.

I just wish that the phrase "educating children for the year 2000" didn't sound so similar to the slogans we hear now. Why are progressive educationalists obsessed with the future? Why can nobody ever say "we'd like kids to be educated at least as well as they used to be"?

With regard to the major point, the Tories are in a mess. They have a very good critique of a lot of what's wrong with our education system, but they then seem content to just declare that if they are elected then they will let other people sort it out.

Why would anybody, even those of us who agree with the criticisms, vote for that?