Toby Young is a hate figure for lefty educationalists (i.e. 99% of them) because he is a leading figure in setting up one of these “free schools”, deregulated state schools on the Swedish model that the coalition government hopes to introduce. In this article he carefully debunks five of the scare stories the left has spread about the free schools.
Though like all of us I am sure he has faults, Toby Young is a Good Thing. Free schools are not free and not perfect but are, or will be, a broadly Good Thing. The dissemination of true information in place of false is a Good Thing. Mr Young’s fivefold debunking is well worth reading if you wish to be better informed about the nearest thing to a Good Thing that has hit British state education in years.
It is sad that in almost every case I would have preferred the myth to be true. Here is why I wish Mr Young’s five debunked myths were not bunk after all.
Myth No. 1. “Money for free schools will come from ‘the extremely wasteful Building Schools For The Future’ budget.” Suzanne Moore, Mail on Sunday, July 11, 2010
I gather there has been some sort of row about this, which I would research if I didn’t have toenails to cut. Government money, like all money, is fungible. So long as you bear in mind that it all ultimately “comes from” – as in “is extracted by force from” – the taxpayer, you can think of it as coming from whatever government budget heading makes you happy. I would have been made happier by thinking it came from a notoriously wasteful budget.
Myth No. 2. “Free schools will have to find their pupils from somewhere, preferably poached from existing local schools, shrinking their budgets and possibly leading to a spiral of decline …” Fiona Millar, The Guardian, June 18, 2010
What the hell is wrong with poaching pupils from existing schools anyway? The very word “poaching” reveals a mindset that regards the children as the property of the schools. They are not. It would do most of the local schools (“local” being next to meaningless in this context other than as a means to arouse feelings of protectiveness; every school is located somewhere) a power of good to be put in fear of losing their pupils. They might have to take desperate measures to keep them; possibly even going so far as to provide an education. And if the dear, sweet local schools cannot or will not do that then let the spiral of decline commence, though a vertical downwards arrow of decline would be better.
Myth No. 3. “It’s freedom, in our view, to reduce the vision for 21st century schools to children being educated in a run-down flat over an off licence …” Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, April 9, 2010
So long as they are educated, who cares where? The NASUWT is the least worst of all the teachers’ unions but even so I suspect that the real objection here is that young people emerging from run down flats to take up a scholarship at Oxford or Cambridge might suggest that the all money put into shiny school facilities does very little good.
(Mind you in debunking this one Toby Young twists the knife with delicacy: “Chris Keats also said in the same speech that the Conservatives’ Free Schools policy would favour the “pushy and privileged”. How? By enabling them to educate their children in run-down flats above off licenses? This is typical of the double-think at the heart of most Free School critiques. They are going to be run by a bunch of religious nutters in nissan huts at the bottom of their gardens and, at the same time, siphon off all the most motivated learners, thereby depriving neighbouring comprehensives of a vital resource.”)
Myth No. 4. Free Schools are a “vanity project for yummy mummies in West London”. Tristram Hunt, The Today Programme, May 18, 2010
Nothing could be a better omen of a project’s success than to have its fortunes linked to the vanity of a group famed for its (a) vanity and (b) success at getting what it wants.
Myth No. 5. “[P]ushy parents can set up a bijou academy free of any sane inclusive admissions policy …” Steve Pound MP, The Ealing Gazette, June 29, 2010
Toby Young says, “Not true. The admissions policies of Free Schools will have to be fully inclusive…” Oh, dear. Oh, damn. This was the most depressing debunking of all. I can’t put it any better than one of Mr Young’s commenters, sevendeuce, who says,
However, I can’t help feeling that you are allowing a very large cuckoo into the nest by accepting the existing admissions codes.
The failing schools that parents want to escape from are not failing because of their buildings, Heads or teachers. They are failing because of the presence of disruptive, unmotivated and sometimes violent pupils – often with disruptive, unmotivated and violent parents.
If you end up with exactly the same cohort of children from the locality as is present in the state schools, I’m just not sure you will see that much improvement.
You may be hoping to attract better teachers through freedom to pay more. That’s fair enough, but will the better teachers come if they are going to face the same disruptive kids as in the local Comp? I suspect not, unless the pay differential is huge. I think they will do what they do now, move to an independant school or elite state school.
It may be you are stuck with the Admission Code and have no choice. Then the only hope is to have a rigorous exclusion policy, with no appeals panels. Then perhaps the worst of the worst will be removed within a matter of days and their influence minimised.