Is it a good idea or a political football?

Today (as reported by the BBC) the Tories announced that they had observed an opening in the defence and were about to take a free kick in the political football match that is education.

A Tory government would give primary schools in England more control over the way they are run – in a similar way to city academies, the party has said. The NASUWT, said the policy was “a blueprint for the dismantling of state education”.

Now I am the one who is usually shouting reform (being a de-schooler – come back Ivan – all is forgiven – see the postscript to this post)… but is this reform or ‘tinkering’? Is it a case that the problem is so difficult to deal with it you can shelve responsibility for it by handing it to others. In this case heads and governors and ‘private’ institutes?

Just can’t see how Mr Grove’s …  the academies system needed to be extended to primary schools to help disadvantaged students …hangs together in the context of primary education. I can’t see how changing who makes the decisions is going to help. If it does happen I suspect that schools will quickly get themselves into small self-supporting groups who may, in the end, amalgamate spontaneously. (Isn’t this an LA without controls?)

This is the bit that worries me (or excites me) and yet I am not exactly sure why … Mr Gove also announced his party would allow community groups, charities, philanthropists and education federations to set up new primary schools … I feel sure that some groups who would open out education and allow children to get their childhood back would or could be very suited to such enterprises.

I can see a bit of good coming from it …Beverley Hughes said it was “highly dangerous” to talk about primary schools being able to abandon the national curriculum … now there’s a thought  that  really interests me.


I have had an interesting week of educational banter that has caused me to go back, in the end, to my educational roots. I have never, and I believe, will never be an institutionalist and so have never believed that schools were good places for education.

Their strength used to be that they were populated by dedicated, inspirational people who were urgent to make a difference to and for the young people who crossed their paths on a year by year basis. If only I felt that was the case today. It is not to say that I don’t believe in the dedication of the people it is just that the pathway has changed and somehow the route has got lost amongst the trees.

So I went back and reread, just to revitalise, the works of my mentor Ivan Illich and I am pleased to say that my ideals are still alive and well. Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them.

They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is, the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavour are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question.

Ivan Illich Deschooling Society (1973: 9)

In the coming age of Web 2.0 technology this escalated to nature of the ownership of education and the vexed question of ‘push’ or ‘pull’ with regard to real learning. I think that teaching is potentially overrated and it stupefies creativity in sport, work and life ……….. the truly greats are and were individuals defining their own truths in their own way and our education systems appear to do nothing at all but institutionalise and take of all of the exciting peaks and troughs in peoples’ learning pathways and make them into plateaus. It is not just about being good …….. it is about developing the ‘goodness’ ………… teaching can play a part but education is different.

We should not be taking so much of the lead as educators we should be opening doors and drawing maps ….. the ownership and control needs to shift to the learners and it is up to us to ensure that as it does they, each and everyone, is in a state to take on the power that this ownership endows. I see this approach as one towards personalisation.

Not the institutional idea of personalisation : Personalisation in education, though, means pupils get what they need; not what they want.

It is not the pupil’s decision, but someone else’s. You can read about the institutional inconsistencies here but …..

To see where all this might be going in the modern idiom read Ewan McIntosh’s blog post about the MET Schools.


Just to mention that Jim Rose’s Review will be appearing over the horizon any day now … wonder what difference that will make?

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