There is a sense of déjà vu around this August. Will Labour opt for a return to Clause 4 and the re-nationalisation of key industries rather than a regulatory regime if Jeremy Corbyn becomes their new leader? If so, will they go the whole hog and re-nationalise freight services under the British Road Services logo, or is white van driver safe for now?
Even the Tories are getting in on the act, David Cameron wants to nationalise schools under the banner of creating freedom from local authority control by allowing all schools to become an academy controlled from Westminster. If he really believes this is the way forward, why doesn’t he add a clause into the Bill currently before parliament requiring all schools to become academies and create an orderly transfer of control? Does he lack the courage of his convictions or is this suggestion just a piece of political posturing?
If you believe in something then at least have the strength of will to seek to achieve it. The Tories in Oxfordshire are apparently set to do this by I believe proposing to encourage all schools – these days that effectively means primary schools – to become academies. At least this would stop the wasteful parallel systems that could emerge under the Prime Minister’s approach. A nation where Tory authorities are full of academies, but Labour authorities aren’t won’t be a national education system but a national muddle.
Personally, as those who have followed this blog for some time know, I am content to see all secondary schools as academies but not am not sure it is the correct approach for the primary sector. With local authorities now responsible for public health and most children attending a local primary schools there is much to be said for the same authority operating both services along with libraries and other services that support families and young children. Only a politician with no experience of local government could think primary schools operate in isolation from their communities.
The Tories other backward looking policy is talk of a revival of selective schools. Designed to meet a nineteenth century need these schools have no place in forging a modern inclusive society. Once again, if it happens, it will be interesting to see whether the Tories will mandate a national programme, thus effectively interfering with the very freedom of the academies they espouse or just let the areas with selective education increase the numbers of pupils in such schools. At what level will pupils be sent to secondary modern schools and with the expansion in pupil numbers to come over the next decade will the percentage of pupils allowed to pass the selection test remain constant or reduce as pupil numbers increase? Will selective free schools be permitted in areas that haven’t seen a selective school for nearly half a century and, if so, will local authorities have to pay the cost of transporting pupils to them or will parents have to pay? Will places be kept for pupils that move into these areas during the year or will they be sent to secondary modern schools regardless of whether they would have passed the test?
We won’t achieve a world class education system by accident, but by design. That means proper national funding and a coherent and rational system. Such a policy would need a really courageous approach to policy.