The Stalinist Libertarianism of Nick Gibb

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On the Radio 4 Today Programme Nick Gibb announced that: “We can’t have two systems,” as a justification for the ‘Academicisation’ programme.

He should try living in Greenwich.

In this South London borough we have more than two systems adding to the mix of stress and anxiety for parents and children. The nearest school to us is the John Roan School, they: “are very proud of our six ‘Roan ready’ words: Collaborative, Compassionate, Creative, Independent, Investigative Tenacious. We expect all our students to demonstrate these qualities and skills not only in their lessons but also in their day to day life.” There is  Corelli College, a ‘Co-Operative academy’ who say they are ‘Learning together, Enjoying success.’ Greenwich Free School on the other hand: “insist on high standards from pupils and staff, adopting a ‘no excuses’ approach to attitude, work and discipline in which everyone takes responsibility for their actions.” Over at the Harris Academy they promise: “Pace Purpose Pride Our Vision Is To Develop Successful Students Who Demonstrate Courage, Behave With Integrity And Live Happy Lives.” Stationer’s Crown Woods Academy divides itself into a smaller number of schools which pupils: “are allocated to the schools based on ability, skills and interests.” In other words there is a degree of selection within the school as to which ‘school’ the child attends. Thomas Tallis School offers another contrast it states that the education they provide is for children: “To Understand The World And Change It For The Better.” There is the Royal Greenwich UTC, and some Catholic and Church of England Schools, there is the ‘Woolwich Polytechnic School’, where ‘Learning Empowers’ who state on their website that they are: “thrilled that Nick Gibb, the Minister of State for Schools has congratulated Woolwich Poly for its excellent value added score for 2015.”

Over at the percentage passes at GCSE we have a range of scores from 0% for the private schools that opt out of such things by teaching IGCSE and other nefarious techniques to 83% pass rate from St Thomas More, a Catholic School in Eltham. John Roan got 45%, Corelli 46%, the Free School have yet to enter any pupils for GCSE exams, the Harris 66%, Crown Woods 64%,  Tallis 49%, the UTC 39% and Woolwich Poly 79%.

The private options include Blackheath High School for Girls who ” aim to nurture all-round achievement and believe that developing interests such as sport, music, debating, drama and outdoor pursuits is the best way of doing this…” Colfe’s school promise that their: “unique and innovative ‘tougher minds’ programme helps GCSE pupils to think and work more effectively.” Eltham College, a boy’s school, state that: “every pupil is known and valued as an individual.”

Added to this many parents and children are drawn to the grammar schools of Kent, Bexley and Bromley with a sizeable number of Greenwich children sitting entrance exams to these schools, as well as common entrance exams to Independent schools outside of the borough.

‘We can’t have two systems’ says Nick Gibb. We don’t. We have far more. Each school seems to be very different in this part of the country. Even if every school were an academy, each school would be running very different systems. Crown Woods is hugely different to Corelli school in ethos, system and overall results. Academicisation will not change this, it might make the number of ‘systems’ even more. For the systems ‘on the ground’ are not about DFE rationalisation, they are about values, ethos and quality. None of this is affected by who I vote for at local level, my vote has always counted for little when it comes to changing borough policy on education. It could be affected a bit by choice but choice, in the main, is a myth. Whichever school we choose as a family the LA will, most likely, allocate the ‘local’ school, John Roan. If we prefer our little ‘un not to go there, then we can move, go private or ‘go Grammar’. Our little ‘un prefers the option of an all girl’s school and she is unlikely to get that choice from the borough allocation. None of the choices on offer are our agreed ‘ideal’, but choice hardly ever is; plusses and minuses all the way.

In this corner of London we are miles away from only having two systems, let alone one. Academicisation will not make this more rational on the ground. The probability that this mirage of choice for most hides a centralised desire for all schools to be under DFE control via a number of competing chains makes no difference to parents who have never had a say over the education their child should receive unless they have the financial clout to make those choices. The idea that schools will be free, albeit within chains and networks, seems to ‘liberate’ schools whilst, at the same time, coming under closer scrutiny of the DFE. This is oxymoronic ‘Stalinist Libertarianism’, all the more Stalinist as parents don’t get a real choice: by having a choice based system and then by giving parents hardly any choice, except those with means at their disposal, it makes a mockery of choice.

What school will a parent choose? The one they’re given. As for a rural area, where the choice becomes even more reductive, what happens if you don’t want your child to have the ethos of the one academy shoved down your child’s throat? Again, those who have the means will make their choice, and those that haven’t… won’t be able to.

This leads me to think a voucher system would be fairer, with free transport provided, and every school having to take whichever one a parent chooses, this would mean massive over capacity in the system; or if it’s democracy you’re  after how about a system in which parents vote directly for the Headteacher of their local school every five years or so? The Head could have the power to hire and fire and change the ethos of the school to fit their vision. I realise that neither of these ideas are probable so we are left with the complex systems we have, where centralising takes place in the name of freedom and choice.

‘We can’t have two systems’  says Nick Gibb. How many systems does he want?

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