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Tony Blair has once again been defeated over one of his initiatives: this time education.

Been reading John Taylor Gatto write about his ideal school, one which is responsive to the local community instead of being supervised and controlled by Central Office. On the face of it, then, Blair’s new proposal seems to be going in the right direction:

Less than a month ago Labour’s education white paper was promoted as one of the most radical changes ever to secondary education, introducing “independent state schools” that would be self-governing, independent of local education authorities, and with greater freedoms over admissions, curriculum, staff and finance. Parents were to be given new powers to drive improvements that included triggering a process to get rid of headteachers.

But if you scroll down, you read this:

As we noted at the time the white paper was published, for all the radical rhetoric it was difficult to see why large numbers of secondary schools would seek to become independent. Headteachers already have considerable controls over their budgets and were not being promised more money. Why would they want business people, livery companies and faith groups having more say in how their schools were run? Particularly unsatisfactory was, in the name of autonomy, to move accountability from the local to the centre, stripping responsibility from LEAs in favour of unelected bodies, and making cooperation between schools less likely and a two-tier system more likely.

So who is really being handed the power to decide, here? One of Gatto’s big complaints is the degree to which corporate interests dictate school content, educational design and organization. Huge foundations such as the Carnegie Foundation

Pedablogue here examines the NCLB act in the US, and some similarities with Blair’s initiative leap out at you, such as giving outside organizations more say in what goes on in schools; which sounds dandy till you consider that one such organization is the military!

Pedablogue’s post also highlights another fascinating issue, one which Gatto returns to again and again: that of teacher certification. In Pedablogue’s post we can see the instinctive reaction from teachers who feel their jobs and job security are being threatened. Gatto points out how certification agencies basically are a way for organizations to remove parents and the local community from the decision as to who can and cannot teach in school. The people who decide such things are not even democratically elected, again part of the control of society by removing the voters from the decision-making process.

That said, Pedablogue has a point: is someone who merely is an expert in their field therefore a “highly qualified” teacher? I have sometimes suggested to colleagues that we might do better to hire teachers who are good at teaching, who get on well with young people and know how to talk to them, not necessarily someone who’s published a string of papers on their subject of expertise (unless that expertise is teaching, which it never is). My opinion is met with silence (if I’m lucky), then eyes down, shuffle papers, “erm, the next item on the agenda is…”. Or I get asked if I am really suggesting a school should hire teachers who know nothing about their subject?

It’s not a black-or-white issue. Gatto does not suggest that allowing parents and local communities a larger say in who teaches their kids will automatically or always result in higher quality teaching.

I think this issue is a fascinating one, one that demands debate and discussion. What do you think?

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