Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Tories,bureaucracy and extremist schools

I hold no truck for Hizb ut-Tahrir. I would certainly share Tony Blair's instincts that they should be banned. But they are not. Nor is there any evidence that the organisation is running two independent schools in Slough and Haringey which receive state funding under the government's under-fives programme that has relied largely - as apparently will the Tories' new schools programme - on the private and voluntary sectors for expansion. David Cameron and Michael Gove have been condemning the Government for funding these schools.

Yet Tory spokesmen win applause from headteachers pledging that the Tories' new schools will be funded with the minimum of bureaucracy, sweeping aside most current checks. I'm all in favour of cutting bureaucracy and slashing the size of DCSF circulars - I spent many an hour trying to do so when I worked in the old education department.

But some bureaucracy does have a purpose. For example, Ofsted currently looks at what a state school does to promote community cohesion as well as teaching, behaviour, leadership and attendance, a measure introduced precisely to ensure that state funding does not go to sectarian or cultish religious schools. The curriculum includes citizenship - following a review in which Lord Baker was prominent - to promote democracy and create a common sense of identity. No longer, apparently, if the Tories have their way. And I'm not aware of any Tory plan for a more rigorous inspection of independent schools; if there is one, perhaps they could share it with the sector.

How exactly can the Tories guarantee us that they will not fund a school run, say, by a group of Muslim parents where some people suspect a hidden promoter but cannot prove it, under their free-for-all? Either they will have proper (bureaucratic) checks or they will not.

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