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Thread: "Free Schools"??

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    Theoretical Element Spud1's Avatar
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    "Free Schools"??

    So today see's the launch of one of the (imo) more ridiculous, tory led, policies of our new government. The idea of so called "free schools", which allows any tom, dick or harry to setup a publicly funded school. I should warn in advance that I am strongly against these ventures and as such this post is extremely biased..

    I do recognise the need to improve our education system - our schools have improved greatly in the past 14 years or so (and its one area in which I think Labour have done a reasonable job tbh), but there are still big problems with the system and there are thousands of schools which need improvement.

    I do not think that the answer is simply to go and create *more* schools though, which will add additional stress to an already vastly underfunded system. My main criticisms are:

    1) We can't afford it! Our existing schools do not have enough money to keep themselves running, and I don't really need to give many examples here do I..schools who don't have enough textbooks, who don't have the right sports equipment, who are still trying to use acorns and BBC Micros for teaching computing concepts, the buildings in disrepair..and I am not even going to mention teachers wages here. Yes a % of this is down to mis management and "waste", but as with our public finances there is enough enough money there to go and spend it elsewhere. In any case, the money that could be saved should be re-invested into the current schools no?

    One argument brought up by supporters of the scheme is that taking away pupils from the "bad" schools will allow them to save money and therefore re-invest it in themselves..sadly it is not as simple as this. Running 2 small schools costs more than running 1 larger school - that is basic economics. So as a result we are much more likely to see either the status quo maintained, with 1 larger "bad" school turning into 2 smallers "bad" schools as they both suffer from tiny budgets, or the old school will simply suffer further.

    2) We don't have enough quality staff. The more schools we create the more thinly spread the really good teachers will become. Good teachers who are not satisfied with the way their school is being ran are more likely to "jump ship" to a new school rather than helping to improve the school that they are currently in. Surely it would be better to spend some of this extra money that the government want to spend on providing a mechanism for teachers to improve their own schools?

    3) Sort of related to the staffing issues - what sort of regulation will be in place to ensure that those who wish to set up the school are qualified? I agree that there is often too much regulation and too many rules over such things, but do groups of parents really have the knowledge and expertise to setup and run schools? I would say that in the vast majority of cases they don't, even though many will think that they do. This is likely to end up in either the failure of some of these schools (and therefore a vast waste of money), or more likely that they will have to recruit outside help..thereby raising the cost yet again.

    4) Teaching content - One of the other arguments I have heard about this time and time again is that teachers do not get enough free reign over how and what they teach. Well yes, and there is a good reason for this..ensuring that there is a minimum standard to which children are taught, and that teaching is as consistent as possible across the board. The relaxation of this policy through free schools could very easily lead to problems such as those caused by catholic schools etc where the generally accepted facts (eg on contraception, origin of the universe etc) are ignored by the governing bodies and other beliefs get imposed on the children. That is a separate debate that I don't really want to get into but it is an issue. Sure teachers need the freedom to teach the most effective way possible, but they must stick to the curriculum set by the goverment.

    I do not have a big problem with privately ran schools in principle, but what I do have a huge issue with is the way that they are being funded, and the implication that this will be a good thing for us, especially when the government is supposed to be saving money and cutting waste..spending more on this sort of project really does seem stupid. I would much rather that if they were going to spend more money on education, that they re-invest in our current schools to which the vast majority of our children will still be attending, and also to continue the current trend of rationalising the school system to move everyone towards primary/secondary as a system rather than the middle school concepts.

    Anyway sorry this was a bit of a rant and nothing will change I know..we're stuck with this now, but genuinely, if I am totally wrong and this actually is a good idea..convince me with facts, please!

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    Seething Cauldron of Hatred TheAnimus's Avatar
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    Re: "Free Schools"??

    intresting.

    well on number 1, your wrong, often as things get larger, they get less efficent, whilst I'm not saying this is covered from the law of diminishing returns its exactly in line with the conlib principles of small government. You can't just say that because there are more small schools its less cost effective. Remember they are not offering more money for the small schools, and the idea is that parents will only send their child there if they think they get a better education.

    2, no. Think about what your saying all the good teachers flee bad schools. That means that the 'good schools' to which they go, grow, meaning they can take more pupils, whilst the bad schools shrink, meaning they can take fewer......

    3. To be a physic detective you have to fill out the form on the back of the magazine and send in the cheque for $20. The one year conversion course doesn't ensure that the teachers are good. How about we put more responsibility at the level of the parent?

    4. Yes this one worries me, but you can't restrict what people teach in a free society just because you find the idea repugnant, that is a freedom of speech issue, there are state funded schools that teach nonsense and even prayer. But whilst some homogenisation is good, having run after school activites, and summer schools, I can tell you the national curriculum leaves little room for teachers to engage the class in the way they would like, this no matter how righteous the ideas behind it leads to badly enthused staff. So this shouldn't be a problem if its handled right, the idea again is devolving power from an almighty government.
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    jim
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    Re: "Free Schools"??

    It's just problem shifting.

    Schools failing in 2010? Blame Labour.

    Schools failing in 2015? Blame charities, parents, local organisations.

    Maybe I'm being overly-cynical, but that's what I think it comes down to. That, and a complete lack of any proper ideas about how to fix the problems.

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    Senior Member SeriousSam's Avatar
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    Re: "Free Schools"??

    The education system in this country has been on the slide since the sixties and the previous government did virtually nothing to improve the situation, despite all the hoo-hah about league tables and bumper results. This also applies to further education and the University system, which in some respects may as well be replaced with a buy your pointless degree now pay later scheme. At least it would save students the actual hassle of attending lectures to learn nothing of note, and leave them free to get a job to pay off their debt.

    This all may sound a bit harsh but the simple fact of the matter is that our education system is neither fit for its primary purpose of educating and preparing children to enter the working world, nor its secondary of producing the “great minds” of the future.

    So to my mind this new “free schools” system is nothing more than window dressing which will do very little to solve the real underlying problems.

    Anyway I shall stop now before I go on a massive rant, instead of doing what I should be doing… watching chocolate bars being made oh and doing the odd bit of quality testing on the taste
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    Re: "Free Schools"??

    I rather agree with SeriousSam, at least in the first part of that post, and I'm sure far from convinced of spud's assertion that schools have been improving .... or at least, that the quality of education has, which of course, is not quite the same thing.

    As for whether "free" schools will do the trick, I'm reserving judgement a bit until we see exactly how this is implemented. I'm happy enough with the blurb on the can, but I want to see what the contents look like when we open it. I support the notion of parents have more involvement, more of a say ... and more choice of where to send their kids. I also absolutely agree with a lot less being decided by some bureaucrat, and more being decided by parents and, critically teachers. It's fine for a basic curriculum to lay out minimal coverage, and it's fine for there to be a regime to assess standards, but a critical point is how far that "curriculum" goes, and how you assess standards.

    Schools today certainly have a LOT that is, in my view, wrong with them. One thing is that the level of superfluous paperwork rammed down teacher's throats is, in many cases, an impediment to them actually educating kids, not a method of ensuring consistency. In part, it comes from fear of being sued, and in part, it comes from ideological dogma from a party that wanted to micromanage far too much.

    I'll give a couple of examples. A friend of mine is a primary school teacher, and for about 25 years, has been taking kids on an occasional field trip from their school to a small, local nature reserve. For 20 years of that, there;s never been an incident, never been an accident, never been a lost child, etc. It's hardly surprising, as the entrance to the reserve is about 20 yards from the school gate. But now, to do it, she has to prepare an extensive written risk assessment to comply with safety standards. The result .... too often, this type of trip simply no longer happens.

    There's a balance to strike. Before you take kids mountaineering, or hiking over Dartmoor, or white water rafting, then sure, you conduct a safety assessment. It'd be daft not to consider possible problems in an inherently dangerous pursuit. So, to prevent the risk of serious hard or even death from a dangerous activity, you take precautions. But a thorough risk assessment for a 20 yard walk along the pavement on a quite village road is a stupid over-reaction.

    And that is part of what annoys a lot of teachers. It's the paperwork, the non-stop barrage of bureaucracy from the idiots in Whitehall that think they can micro-manage every part of every teacher's day. Add to that the vast array of "policies" head teachers have to contend with. One head I know has more "policies" on his shelf (over 200) than he has students. Anyone see that 'Dispatches' a few months back that showed how kids responded to a change in teaching technique that drastically changed their understanding of, and enjoyment of, lessons in maths, but it had to be abandoned to the teachers could train the kids in how to pass government-mandated tests designed not so much to asses the kids, but to assess the schools. That, it seems to me, actually put the education of the kids at risk for the sake of schools meeting government targets. It;s the same philosophy as announcing to an NHS hospital exactly when an inspection is going to occur, allowing the hospital to change their normal practices and methods to be sure they meet government "standards". Hospitals should be about patients, not Whitehall statistics, and schools should be first, medium and lastly about kids.

    As I said, we need some balance. But let teachers decide exactly how to write their lesson plans, not the bloke from Whitehall, and let the head teacher manage teachers. Let governors, including parent governors, hold head teachers to account, and let parents decide where to send their kids.

    At the moment, we have some very good schools, some decent ones and, sadly, a few dire ones. What parent, given a choice, is going to send their kids to one of the "dire" ones. So we need to either come up with a way of getting standards to be drastically raised in the dire ones (and it can be done, usually with the right head teacher in place, because it has been done in some cases), or we need to replace the schools that "can't" with schools that "can".

    Right now, affluent parents have choices. They can, if need be, move to the catchment area where the schools are good, or for the very affluent, opt out altogether and educate their kids privately .... just like left-winger and hypocrite Diane Abbott opted to do. I can't condemn her for wanting the b4est for her kids, but so much for principle when she believes in state education for everybody else's kids, but as a relatively well-paid individual herself, uses what she condemns for others, and that most of her constituents can't afford to do.

    So yes, let's give £free2 schools a try. If parents and local groups want to run schools somewhat free from the shackles of the the education authorities and the man in Whitehall, let them. Other local schools then have three choices :-

    - be as good, and still get parents choosing them,
    - be poorer, but learn and buck their ideas up,
    - fail to learn, and cease to exist because nobody will send their kids there.

    Nothing will motivate these poorer schools better than having their butts on the line, and if they can't or won't shape up and match other local schools, then they don't deserve to survive, because nobody ought to be forced to send their kids to schools that can't cut it, and can't learn to improve.

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    isn't trying to wind U up Shooty*'s Avatar
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    Re: "Free Schools"??

    Not read the whole thread, but I fear "free" schools on the basis that they will result in cut funds for other school, drastic under provision for special needs, and, most important, most parents are way way way too thick to be put in charge of kitchen utensils, let alone a school.
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    HEXUS.social member 99Flake's Avatar
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    Re: "Free Schools"??

    Quote Originally Posted by Shooty* View Post
    Not read the whole thread, but I fear "free" schools on the basis that they will result in cut funds for other school, drastic under provision for special needs, and, most important, most parents are way way way too thick to be put in charge of kitchen utensils, let alone a school.
    On the other hand, those parents that you say are 'too thick to be put in charge of kitchen untensils' are very unlikley to be the kind that has the interest in setting up a scool.

    That kind of parent is also probably the kind of parent who sends their kid to the local comp, doesn't know if they actually ever get there and probably couldn't care less if they did or didn't. Education is often not a consideration to that type of parent, and sadly it filters down from generation to generation.

    I went to a Grammar school (state funded but selective) as I live in Kent, one of the few counties left with Grammar schools and our area has a lot of them. This means, as Saracen said, that the affluent move there to get to the schools, house prices are high etc.

    The thing is those schools very rarely have intake from the poorer areas that are in the catchment. They are entitled to it but many just really don't care or don't pass the 11+

    Unfortunatley for those kids they either have a choice of one very poor comp (now one of these new fangled acadamies that is linked to a local Grammar and has changed name to incorporate that school's name), or schools that say you have to be actively a member or certain religious groups (catholic etc).

    Doesn't leave much choice does it? The thing is though, the people that care about their kids' education will often find a way into the better church run schools (foul or fair) or will do their best to make sure their kid passes the 11+. Those that don't care go to the 'bad' school but that seems to just be natural selection.

    Now I say it is a 'bad' school, I have been told it has greatly improved, whether this is because of lower GCSE and A level standards so pass marks are up, or if it is because of an improvement in teaching I really don't know.

    My point is though that free schools should work, those that bother to set it up will care, because there may be no other viable choice in the area.

    As for private schools, I have no problems with them at all, in many ways they could show the state a thing or two about teachers. Private schools do not have to have fully qualified teachers, they can use anyone that they feel is fit to teach a subject, often to great effect.

    We have a couple of teachers where I work, no PGCE or teacher training but they are leaders in their chosen field. They can teach their subjects to a far greater depth than many so called qualified teachers, those who know nothing but how to teach that subject but have never been in any related industry for example.

    If that was allowed in the state we would see a much better uptake of teaching positions, mainly from people who have left a job in industry after many years, fancy teaching but are often put off by the years training beforehand and low starting pay.

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    Re: "Free Schools"??

    Quote Originally Posted by 99Flake View Post
    .....

    We have a couple of teachers where I work, no PGCE or teacher training but they are leaders in their chosen field. They can teach their subjects to a far greater depth than many so called qualified teachers, those who know nothing but how to teach that subject but have never been in any related industry for example.

    If that was allowed in the state we would see a much better uptake of teaching positions, mainly from people who have left a job in industry after many years, fancy teaching but are often put off by the years training beforehand and low starting pay.
    There's a danger there though ... being very good, even expert, in your subject doesn't mean you can teach it. In my opinion, and it's one as a non-teacher, being a teacher itself requires a very distinct skill set. It may be that it can be learned, and it may be that it's at least part ingrained, but it's a skill set.

    For instance, I'm not a mathematician, but I did do A-Level maths, and a lot of additional maths at Uni, though it want a maths degree, and even some post-grad (like statistics) but I'd struggle to teach maths, probably even at junior school level, not because I don't understand it but because I'd struggle to pitch it at the right level. It;s not just about knowing your subject but, in my opinion, about knowing the kids and how to reach them.

    This is not to say that you have to have teaching qualifications to be able to teach - some people are just naturally good at communicating .... including, perhaps, me but not in that way. But it's not the case that being good at what you do means you'd be good at teaching it either. I have a lot of respect for teachers, because (the good ones) can teach ... a valuable skill in it's own right, aside from whatever subject you are teaching.



    On the more general subject of the post, I mostly agree. For me, the question is how you raise the level of education of ALL kids. But the answer doesn't necessarily mean a one-size-fits-all solution, and that approach is typical of the bureaucracy-heavy, state-centric Labour approach.

    Like you, 99, I'm the product of a grammar school, but in my case, it's in the 11-plus days of grammar or comprehensive. While I was there, we changed to comprehensive, and I remember the head of modern languages moaning that he was now going to be expected to teach French and German to kids that had trouble writing their own name in their own native English.

    That sad statement tells me several things. First, it was hyperbole ... though not by much, as we found out. I, as a 6th former, ended up teaching some remedial maths and English to the younger kids in lunch breaks, just to try to get them to catch up. We had some arch troublemakers that we helped a LOT that way, because they we creating trouble because they were let behind, didn't understand and were bored out of their gourds. When we engaged with them and dealt one-on-one, they learned, and by and large, the trouble stopped.

    That brings me to the second point .... one-size-fits-all doesn't work. It might be an admirable ideal, but it fails because not all kids are coming from the same starting place. My personal view is that some are simply brighter than others, but certainly, some arrive at school more capable than others. Some come from a parental background where time and effort has been put in to their learning before they ever arrive at school. And it pays off. But some don't.

    The third, especially from my own remedial reaching efforts while still a kid myself, is don't write people off. Whatever stage kids are at when they arrive at school, maximise what you can do with them, and that requires that they are taught according to ability. If you put the brighter, advanced kids in with the slower ones, you do neither the bright nor the less able any favours. So teach according to ability, provided those less able are given the best they can get too.

    That's why I've always believed in grammar streaming, with one critical proviso - it must be possible to advance according to development. What was wrong with the old 11-plus was not that it tested kids, but that it was very close to a final decision about the next several years. We did have one kid transfer from a comprehensive into our grammar school, and skip a year in the process, but he'd failed the 11 plus. I don't know how he'd managed that, since he's one of the brightest people I've ever met, and later managed five A-grade A-levels. two S levels and a Cambridge double-first. But he did fail it. Bad day maybe.

    SO for kids from those needing remedial help to those gifted kids like that one, we must offer them every chance to make the most of themselves, and that implies mobility according to experience, not according to background or parental wealth. Don't hold back the bright kids for the sake of the ideology of equality, but don't condemn kids to a second rate life just because they're late bloomers or from poor (and perhaps inner city) backgrounds.

    Which is why I support this move to widen the scope of school providers. Some kids won't benefit, because their parents don't have the drive, time, inclination or ability to get involved with running their own school. So for them, the state must do everything practical and possible to provide the best schooling it can via the existing system. In other words, we owe them the best educational standards we can achieve. The question is how best to achieve it.

    But right now, as we've both said, affluent parents have the option to move to better catchment areas or to go totally private. Poorer parents don't have that option, and many of those that do have the drive, time, inclination and ability to get involved in their kids education don't have the money to go private. Fortunately, I'm not in that category, but I'd go mad with frustration if I saw my kids condemned to a second rate education if I thought I (and other parents) could do something about it but the state's rigidity prevented it.

    True equality is in providing the best of opportunities and ensuring that the ability to take them up isn't based on wealth. What can be fairer than the money following the child? And perhaps what can be better for parents that don't have the time, etc, to be in an area where other parents do have the drive to set up schools? You don't have to be one of the parents that gets involved in setting up a school to be one of those that benefits from it.

    And yes, some existing schools will lose money, because the money follows the child. But then, if they have a smaller budget they also have a smaller workload because they have less pupils. They also have the incentive to improve, because ultimately, it's compete or die. If the newer schools are consistently better, more and more parents will send there kids there because they a re better. But isn't that what we want? We want standards to go up, not for schools to continue just because they have been there a long time. There have been a number of cases of failing schools in very poor areas being turned around to an amazing degree, often simply by replacing the head teacher. This is yet another example of being good at one thing not meaning you'd be good at another - a good teacher is not necessarily a good head teacher, just as a good engineer isn't necessarily a good MD of an engineering company.

    If "parental" schools succeed, they'll attract more pupils and we get more better educated kids. If they fail, then they'll go under. Meantime, the kids currently restricted to existing "poor" schools get more choice, and poor schools get to improve or die.

    Sadly, rarely in life is anything guaranteed. or without a cost, and the cost will be the risk, and the transition. But to my mind, the scrapping of most grammar schools was a serious mistake, when what it really needed was much greater mobility to go up to one if you could, and down from it if you couldn't cope (and we had a few of those too). What matters is not that everyone gets the same education, but that everyone gets the same opportunity, and that the system is flexible enough to maximise every child's opportunities and abilities, and that we give all, regardless of background, the best chances we can. The one-size-fits-all method has had plenty of opportunity, and to my mind, has failed pretty dismally to make much if any difference. Time to let teachers teach, and parents decide, instead of political dogma deciding our kid's future.

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