Onward Christian Soldiers

Onward Christian Soldiers
John Howson

July 2012 was a significant month in the battle over who should run state-funded
schools. During the month that the Secretary of State announced another tranche
of new so-called ‘free’ schools under his 2010 Education Act arrangements and
there were three other potentially significant developments relating to schools.
In an apparent policy about turn the Methodist Church in England announced
during its annual Conference that it wanted to open new state-funded schools.
plans-to-build-schools-in-deprived-areas The new schools would be in
addition to the 65 across England and Wales it has run for many years,
sometimes alone, and sometimes jointly with the Church of England. With an
existing infrastructure, and rising primary school rolls, the Methodist Church
seems ideally placed to help the Government achieve its aim of dismantling the
local authority community school sector, especially as the Church has pledged to
focus on deprived inner-city areas rather than the mainly rural areas where many
of their existing primary schools are located.

At the same time that the Methodists meeting in Conference in Plymouth were
seeking to re-enter the schooling arena, and also strengthen their presence in
other sectors of education, the Labour Party were reported by the BBC as
endorsing the idea of a new chain of schools with a military ethos to be operated
by former members of the armed services, and presumably to be established
under the same 2010 legislation that the Methodist Church is seeking to exploit.

Seemingly, these schools would also serve deprived communities by embedding
military standards and ethos into these communities through these so-called
‘service schools’. What Methodist members of the Labour Party think of the idea
isn’t known. Bizarrely, at the same time, the proposed Phoenix Free School in
Oldham that was to be run entirely by ex-troops did not make it into the list of
102 new schools approved by the DfE in the July 2012 list.
school-rejected-by-department-of-education/ The apparent reason, that not
enough qualified teachers were to be recruited seems, on the face of it frankly
bizarre after Mr Gove allowed academies to employ individuals without QTS in
any teaching role, making his announcement just after parliament broke for its
summer recess.

Some of the proposals launched during July seemingly have the benefit of
recognising the need for schools to be backed by a strong organisation that can
manage oversight of the day to day operations, rather as democratically elected
local authorities once saw their responsibility. If the rejection of the Phoenix
proposal signals that stand-alone schools are less favoured than applications from
chains of schools then a new structure similar to that of the health service may be
set to emerge within the school system.

That the leaders of all three political parties with current or recent government
experience at Westminster seem determined to remove democratically elected
local authorities from any day to day involvement in schooling poses a dilemma
for many hard working councillors and other activists across the country
whichever of these three parties they support. Personally, I still favour the need
for a strong role for local authorities in schooling, and especially primary
schooling, an essentially locally delivered activity set within a national framework.

John Howson is Vice President of the LDEA. An earlier version of this piece appeared in his opinion column in Children’s Services Weekly. A collection of those pieces has been published as an ebook on Amazon under the title. Please miss. “Can pigs fly”?

At a price of less than £2 it can be bought at http://www.amazon.com/Please-Miss-can-pigsebook/dp/B008QBJZ4W/ref=sr_1_2_title_0_mains=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1343725980&sr=1-2



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