A libertarian inclined blog for teachers and learners of all ages. Comments, emails and links to other educational stuff welcome.

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Next entry: "Canadian teachers who had tried to teach in England ..."
Previous entry: School of everything
Thursday April 10 2008

James Forsyth, at the Coffee House, talking about what the Conservatives have in mind for schools:

Once Gove’s supply-side reforms have been enacted, parents will be able to pick schools for their children rather than having the schools pick the pupils. Any school that isn’t up to scratch is simply going to see parents sending their children elsewhere.

In the short run, at least, I believe I see problems.

One of the most vital features of every good school I have ever attended, observed or heard of, is that (a) it has the right to refuse entry to pupils, and (b) it has the right to expel pupils who, despite repeated warnings, do not behave as the school wishes.

If a popular school does not have the right to refuse entry, does that mean that it has the obligation to educate as many children as want to go there, regardless of how crowded it gets, or of how much it is obliged to expand (even if it would prefer not to expand, thank you very much)?  Ludicrous.  Places at any particular school must be rationed.  To demand anything else would be insane.  The right to reject has to be there, if only to reject those towards the back of the queue, regardless of any judgments made of individual pupils in that queue.  (Not that there is anything wrong with doing that, either.)

What of the right to expel?  If schools do not have the right to expel, a lot of good parents, of (at least potentially) well-behaved children, are going to be disappointed, because discipline in the schools they choose will surely be as bad as ever.  Good schools do not use the expulsion threat wantonly or routinely, but it has to be there.  You cannot alter unacceptable behaviour if, actually, you are obliged to accept it.

In the very short run, supply will be what it is now, and I do agree that this may change.  But how soon?  Are the Conservatives ready for the toughing-it-out period that they will surely face, while new schools laboriously lumber towards the new market, finding somewhere to operate, getting local permission to operate, having been reassured that the rules have changed.  Again, will they so lumber?  Will they be so reassured?  They could lose a lot of money and waste a lot of effort if they are promised rights that they end up not having.  Remember, getting politics out of something is itself a political process.

And what of the parents of children who do get expelled?  They are now being promised “the school of your choice”.  Not only will they not get the school of their choice - see above - but they are liable not to get any school at all, if the right to reject and to expel is taken seriously.

I favour schools having the right to reject and expel.  But part of the reason I favour this is that I favour certain “customers” being handed the unwelcome news that no teacher of the usual sort wants anything to do with their children until they behave at least somewhat better than they are behaving now.

So, will the government simply take charge of all these miscreants?  If it doesn’t, the voters will get very agitated.  If it does, it will need many more juvenile miscreant hutches than it now has.

Here to, even in the most low-end part of the market, I believe that the market will, eventually, if allowed to, supply far better answers than the state does now, in the form of more sports oriented, more militaristic, more open air and shouty schools such as more vigorously feral juveniles might improve in and become civilised in.  A sort of free market answer to all that talk about bringing back national service.  But, will the politicians be willing to wait for such things to happen?

I’m no politician, so I naturally favour honesty about these things, rather than politics.  At present, the way it seems to me is that for many, if the Conservatives attempt what they say they will attempt, things will get worse before they start getting better.  So will mere politics be good enough?  It will probably be good enough to help the Conservatives win their next election.  But will it be good enough to win the winning, so to speak, and actually make education in Britain get any better?  My questions are not rhetorical.  I’m genuinely asking, and am open to the idea that I have missed all kinds of answers that will sooth my fears.  As so often, much of the point of this posting is to remind me of the state of my thinking just now.  And as for those reading over my shoulder, so to speak, I won’t be able to say: I said that!  But, I may be able to say: I did wonder about that.