I’ve been having some hospital treatment these past two weeks, so I’ve been a bit out of the loop. After getting out of hospital, I was eager to catch up on what had been happening in the world of education – I wish I hadn’t bothered. The news has been utterly depressing.The most disturbing story, by a distance, was the revelation of a 6 year-old Welsh girl who was repeatedly sexually abused by 23 school ‘mates’ aged between 6 and 10. It’s hard to grasp how so many young children – who can’t be disciplined, since they’re under the age of criminal responsibility – can behave in such a way. It’s almost as hard to see how adults did nothing to intervene (the child’s mother eventually had to move her to another school), and frankly disgraceful that it took the education authority two years to investigate the case. Almost as depressing comes the news that primary schoolchildren are apparently twice as likely to be violent as secondary students. A survey, commissioned by the Association of teachers and Lecturers, found that 48% of primary teachers reported physical aggression, compared to only 20% of their secondary colleagues, and over 60% of those surveyed feeling that conduct in primary schools had worsened in the past 5 years, compared to only 3% who thought it had improved. God, I think I’ll check myself back into hospital. Amidst all this, what is the issue which is generating most heat in the media? The conservative proposals to encourage ‘free schools’, based on the Swedish model, if they win the forthcoming election. Yesterday’s Observer leader devoted a half-page to dismissing the idea of ‘hybrid’ schools (not-for-profits which sub-contract to commercial businesses), not because they are considered effective or not, but because to allow them ‘is to resign ourselves to the inevitable failure of our public services’. Surely with all the other stories in the news, we’ve got more to worry about than ideology? Personally, I’d welcome anything which might bring some innovation into a model of schooling, and the way we manage schools, which is not fit for purpose. The system is clearly not working, so let’s not accept that giving it a significant shake-up is such a risky proposition.