During 2011, the Coalition’s Education policies started to impact directly upon the lives of teachers, pupils and parents: the first free schools opened; many secondary schools converted to academies; supporters of the government’s policies were put in key positions and cuts to education services led to thousands of redundancies with most local authorities seeing their education departments decimated. There was also a great many policies initiatives announced with promises of changes to the national curriculum and the examination system announced; however, we’ve yet to see these changes “on the ground”. A new reductive inspection framework is now, from January, in place. However, amidst all of this frenetic activity a few key things are emerging; points that are stressed again and again on this website but are worth re-iterating because they are so important. The Coalition’s policies are already having a negative impact upon schools and our society for the following reasons:
Social segregation. The free schools and academies policy is clearly leading to a more divided school system with pupils from lower socio-economic groups being concentrated in a smaller proportion of schools. This is because these schools, by and large, have admissions’ policies and educational approaches which attract specific groups to their schools — whether it’s the children of pushy middle-class parents, from religious backgrounds or with other agendas. Channel 4 News pointed this out, as did blogger School Duggery and a number of LSN bloggers, including myself. Perhaps one can’t blame really the individual schools themselves — they are pursuing their own agendas — but the actual policy, which most experts recognise leads to this sort of social segregation. As Barnados excellent research, Unlocking The School Gates, shows, the moment you have a policy which gives schools power over their own admissions then this sort of segregation occurs. It’s a real problem in an already divided society and one which the government needs to think about much more carefully. The academies programme has even meant that grammar schools have been able to expand and grab more cash, meaning yet more social segregation in the areas where they are situated; on average, grammar schools admit fewer than 5% of pupils on Free School Meals. Furthermore, the new Education Bill as Comprehensive Future has pointed out in its latest newsletter contains vital changes to the last draft which will enable free schools and academies even more “freedom” to do what they want with their admissions’ procedures. CF wisely advise us all to write to our local MPs about this.
Giving to the rich and taking from the poor. What’s becoming clear is that the academies and free school programme is leading to a re-allocation of resources on an unprecedented scale with private companies and pushy parents grabbing potentially billions pounds of taxpayers’ cash to set up their own schools or resource existing ones while many local authority schools are being left behind, sorely neglected by the DfE. Effectively this means that many students from poor backgrounds will not see the cash unless their school is run by a private company or is a free school, but, of course, as we have seen, despite government propaganda, these schools do not predominantly contain our poorer students.
More thought-control and brainwashing. The government’s tinkering with the curriculum and league-tables means that there is much more central control over what is taught in schools now. Judging schools in the league tables on the narrowly defined English Baccalaureate means that the more creative and practical subjects (Drama, Music, Media Studies, Design and Technology) all are being dropped by many secondary schools. Similarly, the policy of downgrading the worth of vocational subjects has led to a prioritizing of an arid, deadening curriculum at the expense of more “hands-on”, child-centred approaches. The new primary school reading test for 6-year-olds will lead to very rigid ways of teaching reading, again leading to the banishment of creative approaches at an age when we know children most benefit from being motivated by a “play-oriented” approach. The government’s obsession with instituting a “facts-based” curriculum will mean, no doubt, that it will their facts that will be taught with other ways of viewing history, literature, geography, religious studies being denigrated as worthless.
Administrative chaos. The dysfunctional exam system, the system for allocating resources to schools, pupil admissions, the maintaining of the fabric of school buildings, even the payment of staff have all been real headaches for schools this year as the DfE has struggled to cope with running the nation’s schools. The decimation of local authorities has possibly been the real source of this. If you strip away local over-sight of schools, administrative chaos is often the result.