Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Parent power in the post-bureaucratic age

Today's schools policy paper from the Conservatives confirms what we already expected in some areas - an emphasis on phonics, support for academies and strong support for accountability. The main news surrounds their plans to create '220,000 new school places' in disadvantaged areas by 2016. In fact, their policy differs little from that of the Government. 400 new academies will create around 400,000 new school places by the middle of the next decade: their sponsors will include many of those cited by the Tories.

What is different is the suggestion that these proposals will emerge spontaneously from parents and others. There have been some such proposals - the law was changed to require local authorities (since earlier this year) to do a proper feasibility study to test their merit. Sure, this may sound a bit bureaucratic in this 'post-bureaucratic age'; but the point is that the numbers are not what the Conservatives imagine. Moreover, with 150 academies running in a couple of years' time, the dynamics of parental demand will have changed still further. So, by all means, give such proposals a push, but my guess is that a government agency - perhaps the Schools Commissioner - will need to simulate demand.

Incidentally, having reconciled myself to this new 'post-bureaucratic age', my jaw dropped when I read the following:
We will also extend the inspection powers of Ofsted further, so that inspections will be more detailed and last longer, and every teacher in every subject will be inspected during Ofsted’s visit.
Now nobody is a greater fan of inspection than me - and there may be a case for more subject inspection than there is now - but this is a recipe for huge and disproportionate bureaucracy, especially in the best schools. Combined with near compulsory setting in every academic subject, also to be imposed by Ofsted, the concept of free schools is well and truly dead.
UPDATE: John Rentoul offers his take in the new Independent blog site, Open House here.

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