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Volume 53 Number 3 2011


CONTENTS [click on author's name for abstract and full text]


Reconceptualising Local Democracy

Clyde Chitty. Editorial, pages 335‑337

Peter Mortimore. Markets are for Commodities, not Children, pages 339‑347

Ken Jones. Europe: education remade, pages 349‑356

Peter Downes. I Can’t Believe What is Happening to the English Education System, pages 357‑366

Campaign for Comprehensive Education. Statement on Privatisation, pages 367‑368

Jamie Audsley & Jim O’Connell. A New Direction for Schools and Labour, pages 369‑378

Nigel Gann. Academy Conversion: a view from the governing body, pages 379‑390

Peter Moss. From Hollowed-Out Council to Educative Commune: imagining local authorities in a democratic public education, pages 391‑401

Leora Cruddas. Rights-Based Education: towards a local democratic project, pages 403‑406

Henry Benedict Tam. Rejuvenating Democracy: lessons from a communitarian experiment, pages 407‑420

Patrick Yarker & Melissa Benn. Moving in Darkness: back to the future at Crown Woods College, pages 421‑427

Roger Titcombe. A Case Study in School Improvement, pages 429‑450

Colin Richards. What Could Be – for contemporary policy and practice: challenges posed by the work of Edmond Holmes, pages 451‑461

Paul Martin. The Special Educational Needs Green Paper: a lost opportunity?, pages 463‑468 VIEW FULL TEXT

Tom Young & Kate Stevenson. Students’ Views on the Riots, pages 469‑474

Religious Education and Social and Community Cohesion (Michael Grimmitt), reviewed by Lucy Russell, pages 475‑477
Radical Education and the Common School: a democratic alternative
(Michael Fielding & Peter Moss), reviewed by Patrick Yarker, pages 478‑484 VIEW FULL TEXT



The Death of Local Democracy?


The system of policy making that was established as an integral part of the 1945 post-war educational settlement has often been described as ‘a national system, locally administered’. Being a source of much pride at the time, it involved the continuing operation of a benign partnership between central government, local government and individual schools and colleges.

The 1950 Report of the Ministry of Education (which was actually published in 1951) was intended to celebrate the 50-year history of a unified central department established as a consequence of the 1899 Board of Education Act; and it began with a joint introduction by Minister of Education George Tomlinson and his Permanent Secretary Sir John Maud, which emphasised that the post-war system was not a new phenomenon, but was actually building on a structure which had already made a significant contribution to the democratic life of the nation:

This is the story of a progressive partnership between the central department, the local education authorities and the teachers in the schools. To build a single, but not uniform, system out of many diverse elements; to widen educational opportunity and, at the same time, to raise standards; to knit the educational system more closely into the life of an increasingly democratic and industrialised community: these are among the main ideas, which, despite two major wars, have moved legislators and administrators alike.

So whatever happened to this noble vision of local education authorities (LEAs) working alongside schools and colleges to provide decent educational opportunities for all children?

It is true that many comprehensive-school campaigners in the 1960s were bitterly disappointed and felt betrayed when the Labour Government’s (in)famous Circular 10/65 (issued in July 1965) simply requested LEAs to prepare plans for the reorganisation of their secondary schools along comprehensive lines, and would have welcomed something stronger which hostile local authorities could not choose to ignore. But, that being conceded, by and large, attacks on the powers of LEAs since the Second World War have come from the Right – and particularly from those right-wing pressure groups which have come to dominate the Conservative Party since the time of Margaret Thatcher. Right-wing theorists and politicians clearly see the local authority world as a rival power-base that has to be destroyed.

Writing in 1943, Henry Morris, the influential Chief Education Officer for Cambridgeshire from 1922 to 1954 and champion of village colleges, argued perceptively that: ‘We tend to forget that local government is also a cornerstone of freedom, as every dictator realises when, on getting into power, he abolishes it – think of Napoleon in France, Mussolini in Italy and Hitler in Germany’. In 1986, one of Mrs Thatcher’s favourite pressure groups, the Hillgate Group, published a hard-hitting pamphlet, ‘Whose Schools? A Radical Manifesto’, in which it was argued that all our schools should be ‘released from the control of local government’, thereby ‘depriving the politicised local education authorities of their standing ability to corrupt the minds and souls of the young’. And when asked by a caller to a BBC election programme, broadcast just before the 1987 General Election, what she regretted she had not so far achieved during eight years of uninterrupted Conservative government, the Prime Minister replied:

I now wish we had begun to tackle education earlier. We have been content to continue the policies of our Labour predecessors. But now we have far worse left-wing local authorities than we have ever had before – and something simply has to be done about them.

That ‘something’ turned out, of course, to be the 1988 Education ‘Reform’ Act, which began or accelerated the process of undermining the powers of LEAs by legislating for City Technology Colleges and Grant-Maintained schools. And, since then, we have had City Academies and ‘Free Schools’, designed to ensure that effective planning at a local level will be extremely difficult, if not virtually impossible, in the future. This has nothing to do with the ‘localism agenda’ that Michael Gove boasts about. In reality, it involves a massive transfer of power from our democratically elected local bodies to civil servants at the Centre.

As I began writing this Editorial at the beginning of August, it was being reported on BBC Radio Four news bulletins that 24 Free Schools were scheduled to open in a few weeks’ time, ‘financed almost exclusively by taxpayers and promoted as ‘semi-independent’ state schools, free of local authority interference’. The majority were primary schools; a large number were to be located in London; and the sponsoring groups comprised parents, faith groups and business sponsors. Interviewed by Shaun Ley for the BBC’s The World This Weekend, former Shadow Education Secretary Andy Burnham said that he thought it was quite possible that ‘some ‘good’ schools, run by enthusiastic local parents, would emerge from this Initiative’, but that he was worried about the effects of the policy on the system as a whole. And a front-page story in The Guardian (30 August) revealed the existence of emails sent by key members of Michael Gove’s inner circle of advisers to civil servants urging that the New Schools Network (NSN) – a charity providing advice and guidance to set up the new Free Schools – should be given ‘cash without delay’. The fact that these emails had remained secret heightened concern over the Coalition Government’s lack of transparency about the whole Free Schools Programme.

It became even more worrying when one found out more about the sort of establishments these new Free Schools were going to be. The first wave included the West London Free School which has the right-wing journalist Toby Young as its Chair of Governors, two Jewish Faith Schools, a Hindu School and a Sikh School. At least three of the new Free Schools would have a predominantly Christian ethos: Discovery New School in West Sussex, St Luke’s Church of England Primary School in Camden, North London and the Canary Wharf College in Tower Hamlets; and the Maharishi School in Ormskirk, Lancashire, would be run according to the beliefs and teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and would have yoga and meditation lessons on the timetable.

So, if all these trends are to be viewed as regrettable and downright scary, what form should effective local governance of schools take? In this number of FORUM, a number of concerned educationists reflect on this problem and put forward solutions of their own. What seems clear is that although it is true that over the years some local authorities have performed their essential functions more effectively than have others, this is no justification for dismantling the whole structure of a national system, locally administered.

Clyde Chitty


Markets are for Commodities, Not Children


Recent governments have transformed the English education system from an arrangement of local, democratically managed, groups of schools into a market free-for-all in which individual schools compete for pupils, status and resources. Elements of a market exist in the relationship between parents and private schools but much market behaviour is inimical to a fair education system. Successive governments’ clumsy attempts ‘to fix the market’ in favour of the schools they have created has led to stressed parents, over-tested pupils and a deeply fractured system. Two simple changes could improve the system: ensuring schools receive balanced intakes of pupils (with all receiving fair shares of those who find learning easy and difficult); and spreading high quality teachers between schools. Ways to achieve these changes are proposed.


Europe: education remade


Educational reform in Western Europe continues to be accompanied by high levels of contestation and conflict. The article discusses the terms of current conflicts in France and Italy, exploring the main lines of government programmes, and also the kinds of opposition they have encountered.


I Can’t Believe What is Happening to the English Education System


The author, a former headteacher and now a county councillor, argues that the structural changes to the education system put in place in the first weeks of the new government in the summer of 2010 will exacerbate the gap between the highest and lowest achieving schools, will destabilise the state-funded education system, will expose it to marketisation and partial privatisation and will diminish local democratic accountability. It is a policy which is divisive, unfair and costly, driven by a narrow-minded ideology which pays little attention to evidence and professional experience.


Our Schools are Being Privatised


The threat of the National Health Service being privatised has led to such strong opposition that the Government has been forced to backtrack; and yet, through the development of ‘Academies’ and ‘Free Schools’, our education system is being stealthily privatised, right under our noses, without so much as a word from politicians or journalists who claim to believe in social democracy. Why is this?


A New Direction for Schools and Labour


The authors argue that it is time to get radical about the Left’s vision for education and develop a direction that communities can really own. The Labour Party being out of government for the first time in 13 years gives us a chance to consider what education means to the Left, and allows us to be innovative in how the Party can approach education both now and in anticipation of an eventual return to government. The authors consider the interaction between policy and citizen action in education, highlighting the importance of both and their complementary nature. It is argued, following some of the values and reasoning of the ‘Blue Labour’ dialogue, that for schools to be both truly free and effective they need to be governed by alliances of parents and teachers and not by the state or the market. This requires a shift of trust on the part of the Left, and in particular a willingness to accept pluralism and diversity in education contra both the centralised prescriptions and target setting of the New Labour Government and its moves towards marketisation with the ‘choice’ agenda. In particular, against the consumerist approach to education, they envisage an onus on parental agency beyond selecting the school – on being trusted to work continuously in collaboration with other school stakeholders and inculcating a sense of citizenship in children in order that they should do the same.


Academy Conversion: a view from the governing body


The case for conversion to academy status is being made in a number of arenas, not least on the Department for Education website. As a matter of balance, school governors considering conversion need to take into account a range of factors. How does this fundamental shift in the ownership of schools fit into a discernible historical pattern?


From Hollowed-Out Council to Educative Commune: imagining local authorities in a democratic public education


This article argues the case for local authorities having an important role in a renewed democratic public education, adopting the term ‘educative commune’ to express an image of the local authority as a protagonist working with others to build a local educational project. It concludes by considering what conditions may benefit this development.


Rights-Based Education: towards a local democratic project


This article offers a dialogic engagement with Fielding & Moss’s Radical Education and the Common School (2011). First, the author puts forward a critical and reflective narrative on the process in the London Borough of Waltham Forest to create a strategic children and young people plan, which she cautiously proposes is an attempt to define a local democratic project – rights-based education. She then goes on to explore whether a local authority and a community or ‘commonwealth’ of schools can act together – possibly in radical collegiality – to further democratic education locally.


Rejuvenating Democracy: lessons from a communitarian experiment


Democracy has been weakened in the United Kingdom with citizens increasingly frustrated at not being able to shape government decisions in any meaningful way. State actions at the local and national level are at risk of becoming even more influenced by vested private interests. This poses a major challenge to the democratic health of the country. However, something can be done to strengthen collaboration between state and citizens. This article recounts a large scale communitarian experiment conducted by the author as a senior public official in local and central government between 1995 and 2010, with the aim of empowering communities to become real partners in public policy making. It draws out five key lessons to be learnt from the experiment for anyone concerned with rejuvenating democracy in the UK.


Moving in Darkness: back to the future at Crown Woods College


At the end of July 2011 The Guardian reported on the recently opened Crown Woods College in Eltham, South-East London. The College had been rebuilt on the site of the previous Crown Woods School with £50 million of funding via the Building Schools for the Future project. Its nine buildings include four ‘mini-schools’, one of which is a sixth form, alongside a state-of-the-art gym, a building for children with moderate learning difficulties, special educational needs (SEN) or visual impairment, and a technology and design centre. Media interest was aroused by the way the College had extended its previous policy of streaming students by ‘ability’. Each mini-school (leaving aside the sixth form) operates separately from the others and is populated by students deemed to be only of a particular ‘ability’. Since each mini-school has its own uniform, Crown Woods College students are effectively identified in public by ‘ability’, with mini-school populations prevented from mixing. The Guardian’s headline was: ‘School Colour-Codes Pupils by Ability’. The Guardian’s report, which generated some 250 comments, was picked up by other newspapers. Elements of the original were reproduced on blog sites and Internet-discussion forums. In an article also published by The Guardian, FORUM board member Melissa Benn took up some of the issues raised by the public funding of a segregated state school. We reproduce that article, along with a piece by fellow board member Patrick Yarker, who taught English at Crown Woods school.


A Case Study in School Improvement


In October 2010 Perry Beeches school, an 11‑16 Local Authority controlled community comprehensive in Birmingham, was widely featured in the national media as the ‘most improved school in the UK’ – Ever. Some of the ways in which this was achieved are explored. Whether the changes undergone by this school reflect a pattern that has become more deeply rooted in the English education system is investigated. The research is based on data sets relating to Perry Beeches school obtained by means of the Freedom of Information Act and also on 2010 national school improvement data and the subject-by-subject results of improved schools released by the Department for Education. The 2010 examination results are analysed in detail and patterns are revealed that appear to be linked to league table driven factors. The grade distribution in GCSE maths is given special consideration, together with the role and quality of pre-16 vocational courses. The consequences of the special status of the C grade at GCSE are discussed. The recruitment of the 2010 ex-Perry Beeches pupils onto AS/A level courses was obtained and is considered in terms of enabling progression to higher education. The Perry Beeches curriculum and examination results are placed into the national context by cross referencing the DfE’s ‘most improved’ schools data with school performance in the English Baccalaureate, leading to the conclusion that the most improved schools in league table terms appear to be providing the most limited curriculum judged from a number of educational viewpoints including that of facilitating progression to top universities.


What Could Be – for contemporary policy and practice: challenges posed by the work of Edmond Holmes


In a previous issue of FORUM (Volume 52[3], 2010) Colin Richards attempted to apply Edmond Holmes’s critique of 1911 to contemporary policy and practice. In this article he discusses the many positive challenges Holmes’s work offers a hundred years on.


Students’ Views on the Riots


Reflecting two students views on this summers riots, Tom Young locates the riots as a symptom of 20th century consumerism. Tracing the historical development of public relations and advertising with the rise of one of the 20th century’s least known and most influential figures ‘Eddy Bernays’, he asks the question – who’s really to blame for the riots? Following this, Kate Stevenson puts herself at the heart of the debate and looks at how we locate ourselves within the traditional perspectives of political Left and Right.


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