Considering education was barely discussed during the recent election campaign, it’s been prominently in the news in the wake of the Lib-Con swathe of cuts and legislation. Already BECTA have been told to clear their desks, and there could be many more quangos in their sights. The Centre for Policy Studies produced a report last year suggesting that up to 11 education quangos could be either scrapped, or moved out of state control – including BECTA.
These are feverish times. This week saw the announcement of fast-tracking applications for schools to become academies – by September, the number of academies is set to grow exponentially, and now including primary schools. And we also saw confirmation that the much-discussed ‘free schools’ initiative will now happen. Tuesday’s Education Guardian devoted 3 pages to free schools and seemed to conclude that we are now in a market-driven, privately-run era.
I’m not so sure. But it highlights one remarkable feature when radical changes to education are put forward: most card-carrying liberals agree that we need revolution, not incremental change, in the way we reform schools. But when genuinely radical steps are put forward, we all cry foul. It’s not unlike parents who bitterly complain about their child’s school, and then mount the barricades when its closure is announced.
On the very day the announcement on free schools was made Ted.com published Ken Robinson’s speech, given in Feb 2010. With his usual wit, he again puts forward the case for a revolution in schooling, arguing that we enthrall ourselves too much to notions of linearity and conformity, building education systems on the model of fast food.
He proposes that every school should be different – an organic model rather than factory farmed. It’s hard to argue against, and there are obvious echoes in the recent Lib-Con rhetoric. But it does seem that, if we’re going to revolutionise schooling, and get some real innovation into the system, we’ve got to be willing to consider the transformative effect of market forces. That’s effectively what the Obama administration is advancing and I’ve eventually come to accept that it’s worth a shot.
Those who oppose radical change in education usually cite two widely-acknowledged concerns: the equity issue (won’t a more permissive approach to new models of schooling inevitably favour middle-class parents?) and the ‘guinea-pig’ syndrome (your experiments will put my child’s education at risk). Both are valid concerns. But we’ve been experimenting on kids for decades (albeit in small steps) and the gains have probably been overshadowed by the casualties. So, shouldn’t we at least give this version of radical structural change the benefit of the doubt, until we see what its impact is?
Or has anyone else got a better idea?