“Free” schools could be an advantage for the disadvantaged
Cllr. Malcolm may be mistaken in directing South Tyneside’s Labour Council to oppose “academy schools”
I am a little dismayed that South Tyneside Council has decided to set it’s face against moves by some of our schools to seek academy “free” status and to seek full control for themselves over the finances, curriculum activities, management, style, and direction of their educational policies with full consultation and co-operation of their governors and parents. The exercise of choice by parents is something which Labour appears to want to challenge, and they may be in danger of blighting educational advance for pupils in some the more disadvantaged areas of the borough.
Whitburn is a prime example of a school already progressing well and wishing to push further to exceed the expectations of parents and pupils, and as Jennifer Beckles argues cogently in The Guardian (a newspaper which I am not in the habit of reading regularly enough) “free” schools set up in deprived areas could offer an improvement in morale, standards and ultimately educational achievement.
Labour leadership candidate Diane Abbott has raised these issues and spoken of the difficulties she faced in choosing a school for her son. But parental involvement in the creation of new schools could inspire other parents to get involved in school life and to engage meaningfully with their children’s education. Research shows that where this is the case, children achieve more. These types of schools are also more likely to understand and act on the issues that matter to parents.
Where there are knowledge or skills gaps, support could be gained from schemes such as the Future Leaders programme, a charitable trust which has a team of qualified school leaders trained in new school startups. Crucially, parent-created schools will help to break down the barriers between schools and families so that parents don’t feel intimidated when they walk into a school, or out of their depth in discussions with staff.
Some argue that free schools could lead to elitism as only certain types of families will want their children to attend. But if a free school is deliberately set up in a deprived area to help disadvantaged kids, how can this charge hold?
Despite the scheme being not too far removed from Labour’s academy ideas, it seems that some local parties, including South Tyneside’s have decided to take a political stand against the wishes and choices of parents, educationalists, and governing bodies, much to the discredit of local politicians. Indeed Labour’s South Tyneside leader Cllr. Iain Malcolm has taken to task one of the governors of Whitburn school, former Labour councillor Shirley Stratford who has been summarily sacked from her position as a school governor, where she was supporting the wishes of the teaching staff and the parents. By warning that any other LEA governors who wish to support parents and teachers in setting up “free academy schools” will also be removed from their positions Cllr. Malcolm is making it perfectly plain that he is looking for a fight with parents and forward looking teachers.
Shame on him, he has, with this stance, formed and moulded a political football, and the education of our children deserves the chance to prosper and flourish in new environments free from external influence, and not be kicked around by local political minions in a Labour Party devoid of national direction! I fear that the governors of Harton Technology College in South Shields and St Joseph’s RC Comprehensive in Hebburn may also come in for some “special treatment” from brother Malcolm.
One hopes that as the coalition government rolls out it’s plans for a council tax freeze that Cllr. Malcolm doesn’t play Big Brother in big boots to force local Labour councillors to oppose that too!