What's all this then?

I tweet too much. So I needed somewhere else to start storing all the words. This is it. Think of it as the external hard drive for my thoughts.

I don't have an obesssion, a dream, a fixation or a hook, so don't be expecting a focus here. It's like great big lumps of my twitterings. You may see teaching stuff, rants, maternal anxiety and occasional sojourns away from reality.

Anyway, I like a nice chat so we should talk. By we, I of course mean me...

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Here come the Mind Twizzlers.

Free Schools have been in the offing for ages, so why am I particularly riled now?

It’s not just that Toby Young’s proposed West London Free School was in the news as a number of charities will be evicted from their premises to make way for it,  although that does make me seethe. It’s not just that a large County Council has this week given its backing to Free Schools, offering to support them rather than creating its own schools in areas of need. Although, that makes me very worried.

What has really got on my extremities is an interview I read in the magazine for the National Confederation of PTAs. PTAs are my new soapbox as I was just made chair of one. I only vaguely volunteered, but now I’m involved, I’m giving it my all. This includes settling down with a notepad, cuppa and the NCPTA magazine.

Half way through I discover a very long, very prominent interview with Toby Young, complete with the obligatory photo of him looking serious and smug in equal measures, which was a bad start.

That is the “After” shot.

He makes his usual crass and provocative statements throughout. Like pretending there’s an outside chance that his own children won’t get into his school, and that all staff will be made to wear “suits and ties”.  There’s also a comment that has worryingly racist overtones. He is, of course, not the right person to be running a school. Not many people are. Many Heads struggle, and they have the backing of LEAs, Councils, School Development Advisors, Mentors, Cluster Groups, Unions and all the other professionals that surround schools. A Free School distances itself from that support and puts itself in the sights of corporations ready to part schools and their money.

Belonging to a wider system offers some protection from that, protection for the students, who should not be a marketing opportunity. And schools should not be businesses. Who sets the curriculum when private money is involved? When school dinners were franchised out to private companies we ended up in a situation with children being fed the most appalling garbage in the name of the profit margin. It took a TV chef to begin to put it right. How much more risk is there when a school effectively puts its curriculum up for sale? Turkey twizzlers for the mind.

But I STILL haven’t explained why I am so angry. No, really.

The magazine is for PTAs. Most PTAs’ primary motivation is to raise much needed funds for their schools. At the moment their job is getting harder. School budgets are getting tighter. Businesses are feeling the pinch and are less likely to offer the donations and grants that they used to. Whilst some school funding has that magical ringfence around it, the auxiliary organisations that support schools are feeling the effects of the cuts. As they vanish, schools are left to dip into their budget to provide for the same needs that were once met by support services. Times are getting tough, PTAs are feeling that.

And into the PTA fundraising magazine waltzes Toby Young, knowing full well that free schools will be eating into school funding, leaving everyone else worse off. I’m furious they gave him the space in which to patronise everyone who works so hard to support their children’s schools.  He suggests that the type of person who cares enough about their school to join the PTA would also be open to setting up their own school. Last time I looked the PTAs of this country were only there to make up a funding gap that shouldn’t exist. Why on earth would those people want to become part of something that takes money away from our schools? Away from the professional teachers (in a Free School you don’t need to be a qualified teacher), away from the support provided by LEAs and away from the obligation to teach a balanced curriculum.

I oppose Free Schools on idealogical grounds, and because they are poorly researched, and because the funding sources aren’t even finalised, and because they are an untried experiment in this country, and I don’t think children make good guinea pigs. I am annoyed by Toby Young in particular because his rationale is a sham. He is doing what he fancies doing and the government is letting him. It reminds me a little of the “Reason” programme invented by Douglas Adams in the Dirk Gently novels. All his arguments work backwards from the point of “because I want to”.

Meanwhile, us on the PTAs will keep on going for a different reason. Because we have to.

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