Learning to fail

You know we’re in for interesting times when the South Tyneside Labour councillor with the education portfolio, Councillor Jim Foreman, disagrees with Labour’s flagship schools privatisation programme. The plans to transfer several South Tyneside schools into academy status has ruffled some feathers. Coun Foreman said:

We do not believe it is in the long-term interests of children across the borough to have two-tier schooling, and fear it will lead to fragmentation of the education system.

I don’t know who this ‘we’ is, but I agree with Councillor Foreman, but I’d bet that South Shield’s MP David Miliband doesn’t. This is what he said about Labour’s academies:

Academies are leading the reforms that will radically improve secondary education in this country.

Academies were never about raising standards in education.  Standards can be raised without a second tier system, as performing schools like Harton Technology College have proven.  Academy schools were an ideologically motivated project, moving schools out of local authority control and into the hands of third parties in an attempt to leverage improvements through market forces with the added competitive advantage of extra investment (they should really be called subsidies) over non academy schools.

So far, there’s little evidence that academies have improved education.

Now we are facing the ConDem government’s blue rebrand of the academies concept and the introduction of Free Schools.

Under Gove’s plans to encourage more schools to convert to academy status, schools will be allowed to set their own criteria for admissions outside of local authority control.  In high demand schools like Harton Technology College, this will allow them to cherry pick the best students. Those better performing students will more likely be from households not reliant on some kind of welfare benefit.  This will split schools into income class ghettos where academic aspiration will be difficult to inspire.

So academy status will not only fragment education provision, it will prove divisive.

It will also exacerbate admissions problems for a local authority like South Tyneside already struggling to provide a coherent and satisfactory admissions system.  Ironically, despite the free market ideology behind academies, with their own selection criteria they can actually lead to a reduction in choice for parents.

However, it’s not as if a form of fragmentation and division isn’t already in place in South Tyneside school’s admissions policies: we aleady have a well established two tier system in the borough and no-one bats an eye.  Some schools can already apply their own selection criteria, and those like St Joseph’s filter their admissions depending upon which god pupils and parents bow their heads to.  The state funded religious school system has grown under Labour, and with Gove’s academy expansion and the introduction of Free Schools, the number of state funded schools constituted upon deity worship is likely to grow.

If Jim Foreman or David Miliband are really concerned about fragmentation in state education, stopping state funded sectarian education should be on their agenda.

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