Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Your Child as a Commodity – A case against academy schools

What is so wrong with the system we have now? A school has a budget based upon the number of children attending it. A school covers a certain geographic area, servicing the local community. Parents have a limited choice over where they send their child, but as demand is high and places are limited, allocation is often made based on distance from the school, whether any siblings attend the school, and in some areas, on ability. If there is a problem with the system it is that some schools need more funding to make improvements, and more choice could be given to parents by the local authority investing in more schools.

So what is the government proposing to do? Bear in mind this doesn't fall under their usual deceit of “deficit reduction” or “Labour's legacy”. Well rather than funding schools, they are now attaching a price to the head of your child. Your child now has a value – she is a commodity.

So your child is now for sale, and if you come from a “lower socio-economic background” or a “deprived area” your child is worth even more! Under the pupil premium poor and disruptive children are now a lucrative money spinner.

But who is going to buy your child? The private company running your new, shiny, glass fronted academy. Rather than funding the already existing schools, the government is opening up the education sector to the “free” market, all in the name of choice.

And what is wrong with that? Well firstly there is no more money in the system, so everything becomes rather illusory. In the name of choice I can now set up an academy and try to entice you to send your child to it – a bit like the child catcher in Chooty Chooty Bang Bang. Provided you can attract enough children to make the school financially viable then anyone can set one up. The pupils are worth a certain amount of money which I then use to employ teachers, rent premises, all the things I need in my little education business.

But that's crazy, surely that can't be right? It is. And in the “free” market, if my school is attractive then more children will come to it and it will grow. This will then force standards up in the existing schools and via the market and competition everyone will improve and the schools that don't, well democratic free choice means people will stop sending their children there and the school will close. A bit like how Tesco is such a great place to shop and all those awful local corner shops have closed down.

But what about all the people who can't exercise this democratic choice? What if I rely on public transport – or heaven forbid, walk – to get my child to school? I make my choice based on location alone. I can't get to the new academy, so my local school (which is losing pupils and therefore money) steadily gets worse and worse.

What if I have made my choice to send my child to a new academy and change my mind? But hang on, my son is halfway through his GCSEs, my daughter has made lots of friends, can I really choose to send my commodity-child elsewhere?

And life in the academies. Now that they have bought my child, what will they be like? I guess a bit like Tesco. As a business they will need to make money, and how will they do that? Bigger class sizes? Lower “workers” (teachers') pay and conditions?

In conclusion. Why on earth is the government destroying our universal state education? We don't need more choice, we just need better local schools. If parents want to set up their own schools, why don't they just wake up and get more involved in the school they have now? Why can't we strengthen school governors and PTA groups? Why can't we stop at something a little like the grant maintained system of the 1990's and let the schools have more control over their budgets?

I concede the school system can be improved, but its whole scale fragmentation is not the way to do it.

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