If “free schools” is the answer we are asking the wrong question.
Back to school! But what kind of school? 24 “free schools” will be opening their doors next month; free from the shackles of local authority governance, free from the national curriculum.. Free to teach meditation and to select a religion to promote….. Free from scrutiny as to the cost to the taxpayer apparently. So not free after all……
I happen to believe in the old fashioned notion that every child should have access to a good education. No, not just a good training to get into university, or to suit future employers. But an education that meets the Every Child Matters criteria , creating rounded individuals who can not only carry out paid work but can enjoy their leisure time, empathise with others and can feel involved in the decisions that shape their lives.
To do this, I think we need to get away from the idea that schools are just there to provide employees for businesses and industry. I think we should be teaching creativity, invention and an ability to question.
Yes, we need to teach basic skills, not just for employment, but for life as a whole. To do these things, schools do need to be able to be flexible. Let all schools be freed to adapt some aspects of the national curriculum (though to be fair, I think some schools have used the NC as an excuse) and be given instead a framework on which they can build. Let’s get away from the scorecard league tables and the pathetic targets.
I want my local school to provide an education for my child. If my child is academically minded, I want him to be pushed academically and allowed to study what he wants, not what is seen as cool by his peers or school tables. If my child likes taking things apart and seeing how they work, I want her to be encouraged to do this. If my child doesn’t get God I went them to understand that they can still have moral values.
Free schools, do not address these issues. Whether elitist or not, they will created ghettoes where children who do not share the ethos will either have to buckle down (undermining their self belief) or cross town to another school.
The tinkering with labels by the labour and coalition parties has avoided the central question which we must address: What is education for? Free schools do not provide the answer.