Academies and Free Schools – A failed experiment in education

PowellAs of June 2015 there are over four thousand academies in England. Originally introduced by New Labour back in 2000 in order to support failing schools in socially deprived areas, academies have long since remained a controversial topic. Touted by governments as the miraculous magic answer to improving standards and loathed quite rightly by teaching unions opposed to their undemocratic nature and the neo-liberal free market approach they are constructed around. ‘Academies equals success’ has been the long repeated mantra for many years now, you would be forgiven for thinking that this is the only approach to education and LEA controlled state schools have been an all-round epic failure, yet statistically does this add up? Continue reading

Why doesn’t Labour just say no to free schools?

say no to free schoolsCameron announces that, in addition to the 240 so-called free schools already operating in 2014-15, a re-elected Tory government will open a further 153. Why is the Labour party so timid in responding to this? The official riposte was:

Instead of focusing on the need for more primary school places, David Cameron’s government has spent £241m on free schools in areas that already have enough school places. The result is a 200% increase in the number of infants taught in classes of more than 30″.

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Really, Tristram? The “totally convincing” case for performance related pay exposed

Tristram Hunt 1Having giving his support to academies and “parent-led academies” (aka free schools), Labour’s new shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt has now committed the party to another key right-wing goal for education: “performance-related pay” (PRP). He told the BBC Question Time audience: “I’m in favour of performance-related pay. We had a great report come out today by Alan Milburn on social mobility, and the chapters in there on education are totally compelling.”

In a subsequent interview with Andrew Marr, days after his promotion to the Shadow Cabinet, Hunt added “… what teachers want is respect from politicians. … You listen to their views and you take them with you”. It is a safe bet that Hunt did not discuss performance-related pay with teachers before declaring it Labour party policy. A strange way of commanding respect by listening and taking people with you, one might say. Continue reading

Tristram Hunt promises more of the same

Tristram Hunt 1Given the importance of education in any effort to create a more equal society, it may seem strange that the Labour Party has always found education a difficult issue to handle. The Party has within its ranks many well-informed campaigners for a truly comprehensive and high-quality school system for all (which includes parents, teachers, researchers and local councillors). The Party’s own affiliate, the Socialist Educational Association, also works hard for this objective. The problem is that the Party leaders are unwilling to these as the vital resource that they are for policy development.

The one big educational idea associated with Labour is comprehensive schools. However, Labour only ever implemented the idea in a half-hearted manner leaving a large independent and private sector which ensured that comprehensives were never truly such. This is well explained in Melissa Benn’s School Wars and the Blair/Brown years are analysed in Clyde Chitty’s New Labour and Secondary Education 1994-2010. Continue reading

Milibandism: Politics and Expediency

It’s a truism of politics that a cabinet or shadow cabinet reshuffle does not necessarily mean a change in political direction. And that much is true of the first statements of intent from new appointees Rachel Reeves and Tristram Hunt. You don’t need me to tell you that Rachel’s intent to “be tough” on joblessness, and Tristram’s pledge to stick “rocket boosters” on Gove’s free school wheeze have not proven palatable with much of the Labour faithful. So what’s going on?

Well, to be truthful, nothing has changed at all. Rachel’s pledge to be tougher than the Tories is exactly where Liam Byrne left off. The idea the long-term unemployed will be compelled to take a guaranteed job on pain of losing JSA payments is absolutely nothing new. Let’s be clear, this is light years ahead of the Tories basically reintroducing the workhouse in their dole-for-work scheme and though it’s not without problems the policy is a step in the right direction. After all, isn’t the age-old socialist response to unemployment the provision of guaranteed jobs for those who find themselves out of work? Continue reading