A guest post by @eylanezekiel from @ON_School provides us with an insight into how the Education policy review debate is perceived from outside the Westminster bubble. The argument is that the debate about free schools provides a real opportunity for Labour to demonstrate a positive alternative.
For those of us outside the Westminster Village, and working around public services, we can see that change is needed. Those of us working in Education understand that Schools are an organ of community and recognise that we are connected to all aspects of the world that the families around us live in, and create.
The Tories defined the recent debate in the late 80s, and seem to have done so again, for the next cycle in policy in education. There are many fears about the future these changes will bring. The belief in free market forces, in public services, has opened the doors to poor outcomes for all communities in England.
In the Purple Book, Stephen Twigg talks the language of decentralisation and empowering local communities. If Labour is actually to own this space instead of talking about it in seminar rooms, it needs to better engage with the programme of reforms being undertaken by the Coalition Government.
In education, there is the perfect opportunity to do so. By engaging in the policy debate and pointing out how Labour values of equality, fairness and social justice can enhance them, Labour will actually be doing the job of offering an optimistic vision of the future. This is what states like Singapore are doing. They have watched our experiments in ‘Raising Standards’ through national strategies closely and learned that this is not the flag to gather round. After all, who would lower standards? In Singapore, they are moving away from a results-oriented culture, to practices that are more "holistic and balanced” - not because it is politically easy - but because it produces better outcomes for their children and their society.
At the moment the coalition are decentralising for the sake of it, more than likely so the market can come in. If Labour can engage to show how empowered communities can come in, it’ll be a long way to making that optimistic offer.
The debate must change. It is time for us to accept that we need to rethink of how we fund, organise and educate our kids. There are some key challenges, both national and local:
- Build new governance and accountability arrangements for schools
- Ensure that schools have the right to create a local curriculum
- Build tools for mapping students' and schools' wider education ecology
- Reconnect education with housing, economic, transport and environmental policies
- Assess for competency not certification
- Rethink Child Protection Policy
- Rethink teacher education and build a programme of public engagement with education
- Build school-university collaboration to democratize research
- Develop and ethical code for the educational use of digital and bio-technologies
Prof. K Facer - Learning Futures - 2010
The Free School policy is a badly formed plan for change - however, it did create some exciting possibilities. We believe it is possible to answers some of these challenges in the city of Oxford - by building Oxford New School - or ONSchool.
ONSchool is an attempt to hijack this Tory policy, and put this movement of social entrepreneurship, back towards the principles of a healthy and fair society.
We have placed social justice and community values at the core of a Free School Proposal.
We have proposed a school that is governed through Cooperative Values, accountable, reflexive and transparent in its administration, innovative in the use of curriculum and technology, and in Collaboration with local schools and the Local Authority.
However, ONSchool is one proposal in a national policy picture that is bleak and uncertain. In order to succeed and thrive, ONSchool needs to be part of a wider debate that is able to offer a challenge to the domination of Academy Chain sponsors.
We need to be innovative and fast. Otherwise, the legal frameworks will be in place to make change impossible for another 15 years (see Sweden).
There must be other, fairer ways to do this. We are trying to do this in Oxford - but we need help - as the tide towards a more divisive education system working against us.
We need a clear, bold, innovative policy from Labour, and fast!
You can read more about Oxford New School here: http://www.onschool.org.uk/