Wednesday, 22 September 2010

How free will free schools be?

Here's Clegg's take,
My vision is that every school, in time, will be equal, every school equally free. But there’s one freedom new schools shouldn’t have. Freedom to select. The whole concept of our reforms falls apart if you use it to expand selection – because instead of children and parents choosing schools, you get schools choosing children. So we have made it absolutely clear: we will allow people to set up new schools but we will not allow them to pick and choose the brightest. No to more selection.
But shouldn't parents be free to choose to send their children to a school that is free to choose which students get in?

There's a good article on this subject over at Critical Reaction, by Graham Stewart:

It is surely questionable that while some schools are free – and encouraged - to introduce ‘banding’ as a means of social engineering, other schools are not to be accorded the same freedom to admit through academic ability (however measured). Tony Crosland argued that the grammar schools needed to be destroyed because otherwise they would continue to cream off the brightest pupils thereby preventing comprehensive schools from being truly comprehensive in scope. Bizarrely, this argument appears to have been resurrected by the Coalition in pursuit of the goal of the ‘truly socially comprehensive’ school. If widely adopted, the consequence will be less, not more, choice in secondary education.

Thus we find ourselves in a situation where schools are told they are free to run themselves but denied genuine freedom over who they admit (hardly a small matter if we are to bandy around words like ‘free’). We also find ourselves in the perverse situation in which faith schools are permitted to have admission policies that discriminate in favour of the children of parents attending the church, synagogue or mosque of a designated religion but are not allowed to favour children with an impressive mastery of mathematics. Why theology, but not geometry?

There is so much to commend in what Michael Gove is doing to improve the quality of education generally. He is this government’s greatest asset. Yet, the tragedy remains that only those who can afford the fees of private schools can benefit from academic selection. Is this, to use the buzz word of the moment, ‘fair’?

My glimmer of initial hope has completely faded. If the Lib Dems are determined to hold this line, then there can be no progress. The sooner the Coalition falls apart, the better.

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