Tag Archives: Free Schools

Life on Hannan World (Part 9)

The occasion of Milton Friedman’s 101st birthday…no, he’s still dead, I just checked… has moved the Lyin’ King to pen this gushing tribute to the man whose economic theories have quite literally turned the world into a toilet. Dan opines:

Today would have been Milton Friedman’s hundred-and-first birthday. The Chicago economist, who died in 2006, is already acquiring that almost Homeric status that normally comes only decades after a man’s life.  Perhaps social media have speeded up the process, or perhaps it’s the fact that Friedman’s strongest enthusiasts are often students with no direct memory of their hero.

Friedman, darling of neoliberals everywhere and supporter of Pinochet’s Chile, where his theories were rammed down people’s throats, is given the airbrush treatment… well, that’s not quite true. Friedman’s supporters refuse to see any flaws in the man. In their eyes, he was the very model of economic perfection. So no need for the airbrush.

Yet for someone who talked so movingly about ‘freedom’, Friedman was capable of turning a blind eye to political repression. For him, all that mattered was the functioning of the free market with its insistence that social relations be reduced to financial transactions between actors. Friedman was also fervently against any form of regulation, so in a pure Friedmanite dystopia, surgeons can practice without proper qualifications and driving licenses would be banned. Can you see the dangers? Yes? Well, Dan can’t.

Here, Hannan tells us:

Friedman did not limit himself to academic theories; he had a keen sense of how to translate ideas into action. He understood politics very well, and used to say that his aim was not to get the right people elected, but to create a climate where even the wrong people would do the right thing. Every year I spend in politics I find that insight more brilliant.

Yes, Friedman understood politics so well that in his perfect world, certain kinds of political activity would have been outlawed because they didn’t fit into his perfect model of a rampant capitalist society.

Here we get to the core of the blog:

What mattered to him most of all? Oddly enough, it was nothing to do with monetary policy, or indeed with economics at all. He believed that the single measure that would do most to ameliorate society was school vouchers.

School vouchers, loved by Pinochet’s Chicago Boys and loathed by those who have had to put up with a substandard education, have become a sort of gold standard in the eyes of the Right.  Higher education, too, has moved backwards. For the last few years, students have been protesting over the inequalities of the education system. Dan simply ignores this.

He had first suggested the idea as early as 1955 – in an intellectual climate so unfriendly that he might as well have been proposing that children be cooked and eaten.

You can see where this is heading and predictably enough, Dan tells us:

But the climate shifted, not least through Friedman’s own interventions and, by the end of his life, a few places were prepared to give his idea a go. Chile had led the way in the 1980s, followed by Sweden in the early 1990s. Milwaukee became the first city in the US to adopt vouchers 23 years ago, and around a quarter of a million American pupils are now benefiting.

“Chile had led the way in the 1980s” he says. No mention of the oppressive weight of the Chilean ‘small state’ crushing those below. No mention of the thousands rounded up, tortured and executed. No mention of the oligarchical free-for-all ushered in by Pinochet’s ‘hands off’ approach to the economy and its disastrous consequences for ordinary Chileans. He continues:

Though Britain has stopped short of full-blown vouchers, Michael Gove has plainly embraced the idea that governments can fund schools without running them, and the free schools programme is one of the greatest of the Coalition’s achievements.

The truth of the matter is that the Tories have been historically opposed to the state school system and have spent the better part of 60 years talking it down when they’re out of power and running it into the ground when they’re in government.  The unspoken dictum here is “some state schools are bad, therefore the state education system is bad”.

The Cat believes that the Tories would prefer it if everyone paid for their schooling and if you can’t find the money, that’s tough. You will die illiterate and ignorant. Why? Because it’s God’s will. That’s why.

Finally Dan tells us:

With his wife, he established the Milton Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, which has helped thousands of students, especially poor students, to get a decent education.

“Choice” has been used as a battering ram since the 1980s. But choice is neither here nor there. You can only have what is available. The Tories believe that if you don’t live in the catchment area of a school that you’ve fetishised, then you should be able to bypass the rules and send your kid there anyway. Better still, set up your own free school where you can be free to inculcate children in any superstitious tosh that occupies your thoughts.

While 75% of free schools were found to be “good” or “outstanding” by OFSTED inspectors, 25% were not. This article from The Guardian says:

One of the first free schools to open has been placed on special measures and given an inadequate rating by Ofsted inspectors, in an untimely blow to the government’s flagship education policy.


Inspectors were severe on the primary school’s leadership, saying its governors failed to grasp the school’s “serious shortcomings”, while school leaders “believe the school is far better than it is”.

The inspection team gave the school the lowest grade, of “inadequate”, in three of four categories, for pupil achievement, quality of teaching, leadership and management. “Too many pupils are in danger of leaving the school without being able to read and write properly,” inspectors concluded. “Unless this is put right quickly, pupils are unlikely to flourish in their secondary schools and future lives.”

To borrow from the Tories’ lexicon of smears, I could say that “some free schools are poor, therefore all free schools are poor”. But unlike Dan,  I’m not that petty.


Filed under Conservative Party, Education, Government & politics, Neoliberalism, Society & culture

The Chilean equality protests

There have been ongoing protests against the two tier education system in Chile for the last year or so but these have quickly turned into protests against economic inequality as much as anything else. The media in the UK has been largely silent about these large-scale demonstrations, for reasons that are best known to themselves. I have written about Chile’s economic and political systems several times on this blog and I have also alluded to the relationship between what the Tories are doing to state education here, and what happened to state education under Pinochet.

Here’s an interesting article from The Council for Hemispheric Affairs, from which I will quote a couple of excerpts. This one tells us,

By establishing market competition, the privatization policy was intended to “weed out” inefficient and disorganized schools as students, aided by readily-available voucher subsidies, gravitated toward institutions that would provide a better education.

Sounds familiar. No? There’s more…

Despite the government’s ostensible goal in equalizing the quality of education for students across economic lines, three discernible types of inequalities have emerged in its wake: stratification and inequality in access to private education, substantial differences in the quality of education received, and unequal opportunities for students pursuing higher education.

We already have a deeply-rooted class system in this country but the Tory-led government wants more. Let’s read on,

The introduction of education vouchers has produced an increasingly stratified school system in Chile on the basis of socioeconomic status. Unrestricted school choice in Chile has exacerbated stratification within the Chilean school system rather than provide more opportunities for low-income students to access better schools. Although such students now have the ability to apply to private institutions, two factors have prevented them from gaining equitable access to these schools. Low-income students suffer from a lack of information concerning school choice. They also rarely have the necessary means of transportation to attend private schools in urban areas.

Choice and equality are in conflict with one another.

As a result of these educational vouchers, the school system has become increasingly stratified due to “creaming,” in which private institutions have enacted selective admission policies designed to accept only the “cream of the crop.” These discriminatory policies have resulted in a sorting effect, in which higher income students have migrated in large numbers to subsidized fee-based private schools, while lower-income students remain entrapped in municipal public schools.

Presently, the Tories and their associates in the press have conducted a concerted campaign against the state education system. This has taken the form of op-ed pieces by journalists who are sympathetic to Gove’s ‘reforms’ as well as the usual drip feed of comments and articles that complain about “Marxist” teachers who have “corrupted the minds of our youths”, who all seem “unable to recognize” elements of a by-rote history syllabus: dates, names, places and so on. Such a history syllabus teaches pupils nothing other than the recall of information. The Tories see the teaching of critical thinking in subjects such as history as fundamentally dangerous, because those who can think for themselves represent a threat to the neoliberal project because they possess the ability to analyze and criticize. This isn’t something our leaders want. They want consumers. In the collective mind of the Right, free schools offer the perfect means to correct this tendency by inculcating the values of classical liberalism (sic), religious dogma and superstition in the young. Kill their cognitive abilities at an early age and they will be putty in their hands.

The two-tier education system that began under Pinochet has been left to operate intact since the dictator lost the plebiscite in 1988 and the country was returned to ‘democracy’. But this democracy is a fatally flawed one; the institutions and legal mechanisms that were put in place under El Caudillo, were never dismantled, repealed or modified. Instead, successive Chilean governments have turned a blind eye to the building tensions. Now matters have come to a head.

An article on the BBC website opens with this characteristic establishment view,

Chile is usually regarded as one of the most orderly and stable countries in South America, so the images that have come out of the capital, Santiago, in recent days have been especially shocking.

The presumption that Chile is “orderly and stable” is predicated on the myth of the Chilean ‘miracle’ and all the repression that came with it. The repression, like the wheat’s chaff, is simply discarded by apologists for the sake of getting to the narrative grain that supports the notion of the mythological ‘miracle’.

However this article tells us something else: that 45% of students go to state schools, 50% go to voucher schools, which are subsidized by the state and the rest go to elite private schools. The state system has been allowed to decay, while those schools that receive state subsidies through the voucher/tax credit scheme flourish. These voucher schools have done a great deal to create a system of educational haves and have-nots. We can see the potential danger of this in Gove’s  divisive free school system.

The rationale behind the voucher schools and free schools is predicated on the slippery Hayekian notion of consumer choice in an education ‘marketplace’, in which all social relations are magically transformed into relationships between consumers and vendors. We have witnessed, with our own eyes in this country, what the effect of forced marketization has had on, for example, the NHS. It’s a cancer that eats away at the very patient that the plan was intended to cure.

What is revealing about the current situation in Chile is that the former Education Minister, Joaquín Lavín, was a prominent supporter of Pinochet and wrote a book titled  Una revolución silenciosa (A Silent Revolution), which praised The Caudillo’s  economic policies. This also tells us something about the direction and tenor of the  Piñera government: it tried to reclaim the fragments of the glorious Pinochet years. Indeed, there were no less than three of the original Chicago Boys in  Piñera’s first cabinet. Although Lavín was replaced in a reshuffle last year by Felipe Bulnes (who left the role six months later to take up his post as Ambassador to the United States) nothing has been done on the part of the government to address the fundamental issues. Indeed, the reshuffles are cosmetic and amount to little more than window-dressing.

Desperate and with the president’s approval ratings in decline, there are signs that the Piñera government is resorting to even more extreme measures to crush dissent. This article from Al-Jazeera is particularly illuminating.

This article from Huffington Post says,

President Sebastian Pinera said Wednesday a tax overhaul he is sending to congress will raise $700 million that will be enough to bring real changes to Chile’s education system. He spoke as thousands of students marched in the streets to denounce the plan as insufficient.

“This is a very profound change. It seeks quality and equal education. It establishes a system of credit that favors 90 percent of the students, and the state will provide the resources,” Pinera said in national television broadcast. “Businesses will have to pay more taxes.”

Here Piñera offered a sop to the protesters and nothing more. The state education system remains in tatters.

Watch as Milton Friedman, who argued for education vouchers, defends his ideas in this clip.

It’s interesting how no one challenges his ideas. The word of Friedman, the principal architect of neoliberal economics, is holy writ. Notionally axiomatic, the Right clings to his theories like a heavy person adrift at sea holding onto a tiny piece of driftwood for comfort.

As if to rub salt into the wounds of those who suffered at the hands of the DINA and the rest of Pinochet’s security apparatuses, Pinochetistas have recently released a documentary praising the dictator. This prompted another series of protests.

Here’s an edition of Faultlines that was shown on Al-Jazeera in January 2012.

Part of the blame for the current situation must lay with the centre-right La Concertacion electoral front, which did nothing to reverse Pinochet’s policies. They failed to dig deep into the soil and pull out the weeds, roots and all. But did they have the power to do so without repercussions?

Each demonstration in Chile tends to end with the gendarmerie using water cannon, tear gas and plastic bullets to disperse the protesters. This shouldn’t surprise us because the biggest threat to Chilean democracy is, of course, the military, who still enjoy a great deal of political influence. The armed forces have never left the political stage and wait in the wings for their moment.

Today has seen more protests with buses set on fire.

Piñera has another two years to run on his presidency and at this rate, he won’t be getting a third term unless…let’s hope that doesn’t happen.


Here’s Camila Vallejo’s blog. Vallejo is the Vice President of the Chilean Federation of University Students.


Filed under Chile, World

Askham Centre to be handed over to Toby Young’s free school

Our kids will learn Latin.

I have just read on HF Conwatch that the Askham Centre in W12 is to be given to the Hon Tobes’s West London Free School. The Shepherds Bush blog has more on the story,

I have seen confidential Council information that confirms the Askham Family Centre will house the West London Free School (led by Toby Young, pictured) for a peppercorn rent until the Palingswick Centre in Hammersmith is ready to house the school on a permanent basis.

I’ve just had a look at the West London Free School website and they’re keeping schtum.  There’s nothing on Young’s Telegraph blog either.

The council claims that the Askham Centre is “underutilised”.

The Fulham and Hammersmith Chronicle ran a story last week about how teachers in the borough had criticized the council’s education policy. Dennis Charman, the secretary of the H & F Teachers Association said,

“Council leaders have clearly given up on any coherent planning for education in H&F.

“This seems to include adopting a complete failure to apply any professional scrutiny to the plans and aspirations of these proposals.

“Nor do we see any information about the effects such plans might have on the funding and stability of neighbouring schools.

“The council should be taking a more critical role in testing what these groups really are capable of offering.

“They hold our local schools to account everyday of the week but when someone pops up with a free school idea they completely lose the plot and fall over themselves to cheer them on from the sidelines.”

I understand that there are plans to open another 3 of these in the borough.

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Filed under Education, Hammersmith & Fulham, London

Is privatized education on the cards?

I was struck by a reply David Willetts made to a student on Newsnight last Thursday. On the issue of funding he said “The money should come through the choices of students”. He repeated this towards the end, adding the word “informed” to “choices”. Willetts didn’t actually respond directly to any of the questions put to him, preferring instead to repeat the government message. Willetts’s remarks are an indication of how this government sees education: it is another commodity to be marketed and sold like loaves of sliced white bread. The fact that Willetts used market language when discussing education should ring alarm bells. Courses like humanities, social sciences and the arts will be scaled back to accommodate an expansion of the courses that the government wants to see more students taking. Business Studies, IT and related disciplines are seen as valid and therefore more worthy of support.

In July, Willetts announced the creation of the country’s second private university. This article says,

That university, offering Business and Law degrees, is run by BPP, a provider of various professional qualifications, listed on the Stock Exchange since 1986. In 2009, BPP became part of Apollo Global Inc. – a joint creation of Apollo Group, an Arizona-based company listed on the NASDAQ, and private equity firm Carlyle Group

The first private university was the University of Buckingham, an obedient Conservative supporting university that offers business, law, sciences, humanities (this includes education, journalism, history and politics) and medicine as its only subjects. Social sciences and the arts are noticeably absent from the prospectus.  The whole aim of this move to create more private universities and to marketize the existing ones is to mould higher education according to the ideological contours of Tory thinking. Disciplines where critical thinking is a major component will disappear entirely. Heaven forbid that we should have a country where people can actually think for themselves! Yet this is a likely possible outcome of privatization. This education campaigner explains what happened in Chile,

Well, you’re talking about a very subtle repression in some ways. Most of the academics were appointed under military rule, they got to university that way and they reproduce the same kind of people in the academy. Academics tend to be very right wing and the student movement tends to be very left wing. The most obvious form of repression is police repression. Every student march will finish with water cannon, with a number of students in prison with batterings, students in hospital; it’s really bad on that point as well. Every student march is the same, loads of tear gas, loads of riot sticks, it’s always the same.

Part of the rationale behind Willetts’s proposals is to create an obedient student body; one that will learn by rote and will not ask awkward questions.

This move to privatize education doesn’t stop at universities, schools will also face privatization. In fact, in Hannan and Carswell’s book The Plan; Twelve Months to Renew Britain, there is a chapter on a privatized school system that appears to be based on the Chilean model. Christian Science Monitor reminds us of what happened in Chile.  A voucher system would lead to a two-tier system that would have a deleterious effect on what remains of the state school system,

Additionally, “cream-skimming” by private schools affects the public schools performance in several ways. First, it drains the public schools of the best students,immediately affecting test scores negatively. Additionally, the group of students that stays in the public schools may perform worse because of negative peer effects. Second, the incentives faced by public schools to increase quality may be reduced since the remaining students are “locked in” and cannot exercise the exit option that would drive competition induced improvements

Free schools are only the start of the move towards a privatized educational system.  The Hon Tobes’s West London Free School may have high profile support from Young himself and his collection of like-minded cronies but other free schools will be run by private companies as this Guardian article explains,

Privatisation is about to take a giant step forward. The coalition government has announced plans – first proposed in opposition by the Conservatives, but apparently accepted in their entirety by the Liberal Democrats – for academies and “free schools“, started by parents, teachers and voluntary groups and receiving, for each pupil recruited, what would be spent on that child in a state school. The vision the Conservatives sold to the public during the election campaign was of parents and public-spirited individuals running schools as they run baby and toddler groups, Scout groups and Rotary clubs. But it won’t be like that. DIY schools will need expert management help, and private companies are the obvious candidates to provide it.

It is clear that some free schools won’t be free; they will have to bend to the will of the companies that own them.

Yesterday, protesters in Exeter demonstrated outside a school that has been identified for privatization. West Exe Technology College is set to become an academy if the plans go ahead.

Education is a right and not a privilege.


Filed under Education, Government & politics

Young may be offered another venue for his ‘free school’


I don't want my children to mix with those chavs!

I spotted this on H&F Con Watch last night. Apparently H&F council is not going to hand over the keys to Palingswick House to the Honourable Tobes, he may get a Askham Family Centre on Askham Road, W12 as a consolation prize instead.

The centre’s services include overnight respite for families with severely disabled children and assessments for families with serious behavioural problems. This would be sacrificed for an unwanted ideological free school experiment, half of whose pupils will come from outside the borough.

Well, they’re poor people who rely on public services which is something that this council is keen to put a stop to as it welcomes the arrival of more mega-riche into the borough.

You can read Cllr Steven Cowan’s blog here. The BBC has a report here.

Hammersmith and Fulham council is also supporting plans for two other free schools which have been provisionally approved by the government.

Toby Young told the BBC he could not comment directly on the Pallingswick House property, except to say that his group was looking at a number of sites.

The school will be a “four-form entry”, with 120 children a year

He said the group hoped to allow parents to apply formally for the school from next week – without telling them where the school would be. Applications would close at the end of January.

Further down the article,

Mr Young said from the expressions of interest so far, the school looked to have broad appeal.

He has been stung by suggestions it will cater just for the middle classes.

“What we are offering has a broad appeal in the local area. By no means are all the parents middle-class – a cross-section of people are applying,” he said.

Hmmm, I wouldn’t mind betting that he’s bullshitting here.  When he says “By no means are all the parents middle-class” I wouldn’t mind betting that some of them are petites aristocrates.

According to Hammersmith Today, the council is “actively helping Young to find a site”.

Leader of the Council, Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh says: “We will do everything we can to support parents wanting to set up free schools. The West London Free School would be very welcome in H&F.

” It will extend the choices open to local families, help us cater for the growing local population and support our aspiration to encourage more families to choose local state schools rather than going private.”

Which probably means the the existing local state schools will end up suffering as a result.

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Filed under Education, Hammersmith & Fulham, London

Free school for Palingswick House?

Palingswick House.

The Shepherds Bush blog has heard rumours  that the Honourable Tobes’s free school could occupy Palingswick House on King Street in Hammersmith.  I thought Tobes had found some premises in Acton.  Palingswick House is currently home to a number of charities but the council has plans to evict them. The rumour is given some added weight by this statement on the West London Free School blog,

We’ve extended our site search to Hounslow, Brent and Hammersmith and Fulham and are zeroing in on some very promising prospects. Those of you who live in Ealing shouldn’t be disheartened by this since we’ve been granted permission by the Department for Education to admit most of the pupils via a lottery.

The choice of Palingswick House would be an interesting one. The building is next door to the independent Latymer Upper School. I have heard that they could be involved in some sort of partnership. Very exclusive. More 4x4s clogging up that end of King Street on weekday mornings. Just what we needed.


Filed under Education, Hammersmith & Fulham, London

The end of upward social mobility?

Leaders from monarchs to presidents to prime ministers have all feared the latent power of the masses. There are two ways in which states deal with the masses: the first is to provide diversions, as the Romans did, offer them panem et circenses – bread and circuses. The second way is to oppress them and smash them when they stir from their slumber. This is the method that was chosen by the Emperor Justinian when he perceived the Nika Riots in 532 to be a threat to his regime. He sent his trusted general, Belisarius and the eunuch Narses to the Hippodrome to confront the mob which included some senators. Narses’s job was to divert the attention of the mob producing a bag of gold pieces while Belisarius charged in and massacred the lot of them.  Admittedly Justinian thought of leaving Constantinople but his wife, the Empress Theodora persuaded him to stay with these words,

“Those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss. Never will I see the day when I am not saluted as empress”.

The third way is hardly mentioned and generally avoided by right wing parties: education.

Universal education was introduced in Britain in the middle of the 19th century for the purpose of preparing young people for the world of work. The extant public schools were founded with the intention of providing education for the poor of their area. The educational emphasis of the public school was based on classical models of pedagogy. The pupils who went to such schools were expected to go in to the clergy or the civil service. The working class were expected to stay in their place; the chance of upward mobility was remote and therefore the education they received was basic: reading, writing and arithmetic.

And so it remained until the 20th century when the Education Act of 1944 opened the doors of the country’s universities to the working classes. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, working class admissions to universities rose by 25%.

Those working class people who went to universities between the 1950’s and 1980’s will tell you what an experience it was. Many will also tell you that for the first time, they were exposed to new ideas,  some of those ideas would form the core of their political beliefs. Indeed many activists in the 1960’s were students who came from working class backgrounds. This no doubt alarmed the Conservatives who were concerned that the newly educated working classes now had the tools to take apart their arguments and press for greater social equality. Those students could also go on to educate others in ways that ran counter to the dominant ideology.

By the 1980’s, the Thatcher government embarked on a war against the working class. To curb them, she would first attack their institutions: the trade unions, seek to limit their access to higher education and try and buy them off with the dream of home and share-ownership.  She would also identify the National Union of Students as a hotbed of student activism; another form of resistance to her rule. Thatcher wanted membership of the NUS to be voluntary rather than automatic upon enrolment. The Conservatives openly attacked the NUS and used its Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) as a sort of column to counter them. The FCS was not affiliated to the NUS and received funding from the Freedom Assocation. Its members could often be seen wearing T-Shirts with the words “Hang Mandela” and many of its members were also members of The Monday Club.

I went to a polytechnic in the mid-1980’s. Polytechnics were introduced by Wilson’s Labour government in the 1960’s with the aim of providing vocational courses at tertiary level and thus put higher technical qualifications on a par with academic ones. I went to Newcastle upon Tyne Poly because I realized that I could not afford to throw more money away on audition fees to the various drama schools that I’d applied to. I figured that having a degree would be better than having a diploma from some drama school and I might even learn more at a poly than a drama school. I also thought (wrongly) that both my working class background and my American education would preclude me from going to a university. So Poly it was.

Towards the end of my undergraduate years, Thatcher announced wide-ranging ‘reforms’ to higher education one of which ended the maintenance grant that was paid to students and the other proposed that polytechnics could become universities that had the power to award heir own degrees. Enacted after her departure from office, The Further and Higher Education Act (1992) also meant that FE colleges were taken out of local authority control and were formed as individual corporations. These college-corporations would reduce adult education in order to get more ‘bums on seats which means more funding as a result (each enrolled student is equal to  a unit of funding).   The introduction of student loans had the effect of reducing numbers of working class entrants to university. The numbers further declined when Blair introduced tuition fees in 1998 and top up fees in 2004. This ended Labour’s commitment to a system of higher education that was open to all. This also ended any ideas of upward social mobility that working class people had.

The Blair government also went one step further: they placed universities under the aegis of the Department for Business Enterprise and Skills. This was a clear signal from the Blair government that it wanted to transform universities from places of learning to factories that produced workers for largely service sector-oriented jobs, as well as those in the financial sector.

Given the coalition government’s penchant for slashing anything that requires public funding, higher education is, in future, likely to be accessible only to those who have the money to pay for it. For all their talk of ‘fairness’ it is clear that this is nothing more than empty rhetoric. The government can introduce and presumably find the money to fund the so-called free schools but they are reluctant to provide access to higher education to those from poorer backgrounds. The free schools, incidentally, are likely to be run by private companies rather than pushy parents.

It is clear that the Tories have been opposed to the working classes gaining access to higher education. For them, education beyond the formative years must be paid for. They regard educated working class people as dangerous and subversive. This is the reason why the Bible was written in Latin until the 16th century and interpreted only by those who had knowledge of that language. Slaves in the US were forbidden to read and write and anyone caught instructing a slave could face harsh penalties. The reasons why were glaringly obvious.

For all their talk of freedom, the government seem intent on granting freedoms to their own class and denying it to those below them.

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Filed under Comprehensive Spending Review, Conservative Party, Education, Government & politics, Labour, Public spending, Society & culture

Free schools? More like ‘Me First’ schools

Toby Young regularly gets his knickers in a twist over any criticism of his cherished free schools. Indeed, anyone who doesn’t share the Honourable Tobes’s view on free schools is a ‘loony left-winger’. Of course he would deny that  his support for free schools is ideological. Ideology is what those horrid left-wingers have, not Tobes.

Here he lambasts an Institute of Education report that Swedish free schools have created segregation within the system, what Ed Balls has described as “educational apartheid”,

I don’t think I’ve ever come across a richer source of politically correct gobbledygook. Among its many delights it contains a passage on ‘transpeople’, defined as people who’ve undergone ‘gender reassignment surgery’. You wouldn’t have thought there’d be many of them at the Institute, but that hasn’t stopped the ‘Gender Equalities Officer’ from coming up with a series of pledges designed to protect their rights. She promises to ensure that ‘our equal opportunities policies… do not discriminate against transpeople — especially in terms of dignity at work’ and that ‘trans perspectives are included in equality impact assessment processes’.

Marvellous isn’t it? A whole policy devised just in case a post-op transsexual ever enrols at the Institute. The ‘Equalities Officer’ (fresh from her last berth on a Soviet nuclear sub) promises to include the policy as ‘part of the mandatory equality training’.

You know something? I can’t take this tripe seriously. Young is what Americans would call a ‘blowhard’ and what Scousers would refer to as a ‘gobshite’. All he thinks he needs to do is accuse the IoE of “political correctness” and make a desperate attempt to link the Institute with Soviet-era political officers and the job is done.  Weak.

But this is even weirder,

If this repository of Left-wing claptrap is going to be allowed to dictate the Government’s education policy then God help us all.

“Left wing claptrap”? Blimey, you’re on fire today! By the way, the IoE is an internationally renown institution and certainly has a better track record on educational matters than pushy parents like you, Tobes. Which reminds me, have you ever taught in a school? Do you have a PGCE? No, you don’t. Just because you’re a parent, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you are some sort of expert on formative education.

So how will free schools formulate their admissions policy? Presumably admissions will be the responsibility of the parents who run the school. Young’s borough,  Ealing,  has the highest concentration of private and independent schools in London. Places for state schools are limited and hard fought over. Instead of building new state schools, the coalition has decided to create a system that will eventually exclude those who do not meet the whimsical admissions criteria of the free schools. So where will those pupils go? Oddly enough, the Honourable Tobes hasn’t got an answer for that. Furthermore, he doesn’t care.

I find it revealing that Young ignored some of the more important points contained in the report. For instance, the report’s author, Suzanne Wiborg, discovered

that while free schools improved pupils’ results at the age of 15 or 16, there was no difference in results between free school pupils and children at other schools by the equivalent of A-level.

She says,

“The advantage that children schooled in areas with free schools have by the age of 16 is not translated into greater achievements later in life as they score no better in the final exams at age 18 and 19. They are no more likely to participate in higher education,”

Wiborg also found that,

local authorities had to pay for costly surplus school places and that the planning which went into allocating student places had become complex and expensive.

So who says this won’t lead to, as Balls puts it, educational apartheid? But we should recognize where all of this comes from: school league tables. Pub darts teams belong in leagues, not schools (well, maybe their sports teams do).  One can point to a school and say it fails because of factors  X, Y and Z. But whose fault is it that a school ‘fails’? Is it the pupils? The teachers? The governors? The LEA? This form of manufactured competition is not only divisive, it is corrosive and we can see its effects on those schools that at the bottom of the league tables. We also need to remind ourselves who introduced the idea of the school league tables in the first place. It was the last Tory government under John Major, who also introduced targets and benchmarks. The Honourable Gobshite seems to have ignored that important point too. Quelle surprise!

I noticed this in The Morning Star (I can see Tobes preparing to fulminate already).

But coalition cracks appeared when Lib Dem MP David Ward declared that Mr Gove’s Bill was “leading to what could be a nasty accident.”

He warned it would lead to “a fragmentation and a weakening of the state school system.”

And he feared that the British National Party would have a group of parents applying to set up a “free school” within a year.

Exactly, so who is going to stop BNP and other fascist-minded parents from setting up a free school? Not you, Tobes.  And certainly not Michael Gove.

What about disabled children? I can some of these schools refusing admission simply on the grounds of not having an access ramp outside… or citing the lack of an access ramp as a cover for something else.

Freedom is a state of mind; governments can’t give you freedom, only you can do that for yourself. Free schools are for those who don’t want their child to associate with those oiks from the estate over the road.


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Supermarkets, schools and Daniel Hannan

For me, Daniel Hannan is an easy target. He lives in a rarefied world of privilege and sees the world through the distorted lens of ‘libertarian’ self-interest.  It is instructive how he uses supermarkets to illustrate how Gove’s education proposals are a good thing; how they will produce ‘winners’. Here’s Hannan in his Daily Telegraph blog.

Think of, say, supermarkets. No LEAs regulate them, no one sets their prices. And yet a Tesco in Northampton sells roughly the same things, at roughly the same prices, as a Tesco in Southampton. Why? Because competition ensures standards, in a way that legislation can’t. Shoppers like me, who have little idea of what they should be buying, and only the haziest notion of prices, are guaranteed a certain level of service by the discernment of more demanding customers.

Hannan seems to be on another planet here; schools aren’t supermarkets nor can they really be compared in any way to supermarkets. If schools are like supermarkets, then Hannan went to Fortnum and Mason or Harrods Food Hall.  Like most politicians of his type, he sees only private sector solutions to public sector problems; some of those problems are phantasms. The key questions of Britain’s education system are sidestepped by Hannan and his chums. For instance, what is school for? Is there a better and more effective way to assess students that doesn’t subject them to constant testing?

The way in which mainstream politicians – that is to say, politicians from the capitalist parties – will reach for the word “choice” as though it was some sort of word of power in order to gain access to the hidden quarters of our psyches – this is dog whistle’ politics, but “Chasmodai”  it isn’t. Choice is a myth and as Dick Hebdige reminds us in his book Subculture: The Meaning of Style, “you can only want what is available” (1989).

So some schools will fail, opines Hannan. So what will happen to those pupils who find themselves at a failed school that has been closed? What is this ‘survival of the fittest’ nonsense? Blaming the failure on the LEA is a little too one-dimensional. There are many reasons why some schools perform worse than others, yet this is presented as the failure of local government (this is just a coded way of claiming it’s the fault of the ‘other’ party who controls the council).

No system is perfect. Freedom includes the freedom to fail. But at least, under Michael Gove’s proposals, parents could do something about it. A failed school would be allowed to close. Perhaps a visionary deputy head from nearby, or a Toby Young-style parental posse, might take over the premises. But it is surely better that poor schools should be allowed to fold than that they should remain open, blighting the life chances of successive generations.

Toby Young in charge of a school? Young is not, to my knowledge, a professional educator and there is a substantive difference between a concerned parent and a teacher: the parent knows the child (or claims to) and the teacher is the one who often has to pick up the pieces when the effects of a turbulent domestic life impact on the pupil’s performance and behaviour at school. Young, Hannan notes, was educated at a comprehensive school but what Hannan failed to mention was the fact that Young went to Oxford.

Hannan crows:

There will be winners, Ed. Lots and lots of winners.

Maybe but there will lots of losers too; loads of them, in fact.

Hannan once praised Iceland’s ‘economic miracle’….then Iceland’s banks went down the khazi and took billions of people’s money with them. His Spectator blog from 2004 is here.

Even when it was clear that all wasn’t going according to plan in Iceland, Hannan was steadfast; framing his discourse in terms of ‘independence’ and ‘freedom’ (another illusion).

Iceland would be mad to join the EU? Anyone would be mad to take you seriously, Daniel!

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