Rushing to introduce yet another type of school will not improve educational standardsby Judith Judd / August 25, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in September 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
Schools are fertile territory for reforming governments. Labour’s first legislation in 1997 abolished the assisted places scheme; now the Conservatives have rushed through their academies bill. This will turn more schools into academies more quickly, and pave the way for privately run, state-funded “free schools” set up by parents, teachers and charities. David Cameron needs a quick win in public service reform to show that his government is about more than slashing spending. “We need to change the way we do education,” he said.
Will he succeed? Ministers have received just 62 applications for free school status. But new schemes often start slowly. The charity charged with promoting them is talking to 700 interested groups. Governments can cajole and bribe to advance change—as they did with grant-maintained schools (Conservatives), specialist schools (Conservative and Labour) and academies (Labour). The real question, though, is not how many free schools there will be, but whether they will improve standards. Michael Gove, secretary of state for education, said that in Sweden they have not only raised standards but have led to a “virtuous dynamic,” spurring other schools to “raise their game,” and that “they help close the gap between the poorest and wealthiest.”