‘Freedom is more than a word’

Congratulations to Leora Cruddas on her appointment as the new Chief Executive of FASNA, Freedom and Autonomy for Schools – National Association. Leora has joined FASNA from ASCL, another of the alphabet soup of initials that is the fate of any policy area in the modern age. Leora was very supportive of TeachVac this time last year and I was grateful for her kind words. I wish her well in her new appointment.

I will watch the development of FASNA with interest. Regular readers of this blog will know that I have a view about local accountability of schools, especially primary schools and the feedback that active local politicians can bring to the education scene. This can be lost with remote Regional Commissioners and Chief Executives of MATs that don’t understand the importance of customer care and working for the better education of the local community

However, I am encouraged that Freedom is linked to Autonomy in the title of the organisation. Freedom to innovate can be a good think; freedom to ignore the place of local schools in society isn’t, as my campaign for places for looked after children demonstrates. Freedom over admissions must not be used to discriminate against certain groups in society: especially the most vulnerable. Public money is to be used for public benefit, not for some, but for all, however uncomfortable a challenge that may sometimes be.

The issue is raised today in terms of whether a school can refuse to accept a pupil on roll into the next year group because of inadequate performance or likely poor performance in the future. In the old days, it was clear that a pupil could only be taken off roll in certain limited circumstances. I think this was regardless of whether or not they were over the school leaving age. The issue was the roll not the leaving age. I am sure that there is case law on this point. I assume that a school could refuse to enter a pupil in a public examination if it felt that they wouldn’t achieve the grade a school wants, but again, the issue is who is the school working for? Does it have a duty to pupils on roll to educate them to the best of its ability unless it formally excludes them and can it exclude for academic reasons associated with a minimum standard of performance?

With its connections to the Church of England, the relevant diocese ought to take an interest in this school’s approach to selection. How free should a state funded school be to decide this sort of policy? No doubt these are able pupils, they passed the entry exam to the school, so the standard is relative and they would be welcome elsewhere, but why should their education be interrupted in this way?

Where are the boundaries of freedom. I don’t agree with C S Lewis, the Christian apologist who wrote in 1944 the following that seems very close to the position being taken by the school trying to exclude its own pupils.

A truly democratic education—one which will preserve democracy—must be, in its own field, ruthlessly aristocratic, shamelessly “high-brow.” In drawing up its curriculum it should always have chiefly in view the interests of the boy who wants to know and who can know … It must, in a certain sense subordinate the interests of the many to those of the few, and it must subordinate the school to the university. Only thus can it be a nursery of those first-class intellects without which neither a democracy nor any other State can thrive.  C. S. Lewis, “Notes on the Way,” Time and Tide 25 (29 April 1944), 369–70. Lewis’ own title for this essay was “Democratic Education.” From https://tifwe.org/resource/c-s-lewis-and-the-meaning-of-freedom/ by Steven Gillen




3 thoughts on “‘Freedom is more than a word’

  1. FASNA is an organisation which was close to Michael Gove. He attended a birthday bash in 2012 to celebrate FASNA’s 20 years and made a speech. This was odd since FASNA under its previous name of the Foundation and Aided Schools National Association was only incorporated in 2004 (another FASNA was incorporated in 2002 but dissolved in 2007). 2004 to 2012 is not 20 years. http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/08/pro-academy-freedom-faction-sprung-from-group-that-would-have-expired-in-1999-according-to-gove

    FASNA helped spread the myth that non-academies were under the iron hand of LA control and needed to convert to gain ‘freedom and autonomy’. But the Academies Commission in 2013 found LA schools can do most things academies can do. http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2013/01/most-things-an-academy-can-do-a-maintained-school-can-also-do-says-academies-commission. This was confirmed by the Education Select Committee in 2015: ‘Most academy freedoms are in fact available to all schools’ http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2015/01/academy-conversion-is-not-a-magic-bullet-says-select-committee-report-which-reveals-flaws-in-flagship-policy

    Before the 2015 election, FASNA organised a letter signed by several heads which implied voters should reject Labour. This could be seen a political lobbying by a charity. Such political lobbying by charities is forbidden under Charity Law. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3029524/80-headteachers-warn-Ed-s-U-turn-school-reforms-Chiefs-use-letter-say-clear-evidence-academy-style-benefiting-children.html

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