Sunday, 17 March 2013

After the flexischool ban

Strange forces are gathering in my world of education.

Not the mermaid on the toilet again! We kicked her out.

No, these forces are emanating from the political world in the form of steady drip, drip messages. Your child not in school - your child not educated. All children must be in school. Any child not in school is a child not accounted for.

But this sly restructuring to our fields of vision, to our understanding of education, is not being done through direct challenge to statute law. It's being done to how the law is interpreted; the guidelines issued from central government, the rules laid down and passed to local authorities, then commanded on to parents.

Take our recent flexischooling ban. The one where the Tory government just outlawed your hard-won negotiation to build an education for your child based on part-time attendance at school with one-to-one time elsewhere. Boom! Gone. Illegal overnight. As of last week, your flexischool arrangement is not allowed. Effected not through any change to law. But a 'defining of school attendance codes'.

Eh? This shift affects thousands of children whose parents have worked hard to achieve a personalised education for their child. But suddenly we have an insidious change wrought to our thinking about where education must effectively take place - school or home not both - and it's all coming from a school attendance code? It's all about the letter B?

Suspicious. What's the aim here? Where is the independent, informed analysis about this in the newspapers? Where is the commentary on the aims of Gove and Truss?

My bet is, the bleating from central government will be about funding. These are hard times with tough economic choices. But change to the interpretation of education law is not about funding, whatever they say. A deal could be stitched up to support flexischooling if the commitment was there: part-funds could be offered to schools, and that would be straightforward enough. So cash is the excuse, but the real reason is elsewhere.

Howabout, underlying this recent shift of education interpretation, is a shifted definition of what it is to be socialised.

Socialisation used to mean learning how to get along with other people in your community to get stuff done, but now socialisation is coming to mean something different - try conformity to a 'national vision', the adoption of particular forms of national values - where failure to subscribe to these aims is suspicious and alien.

But how to achieve this form of socialisation - of changing our expectations, cultures, and practices, to something akin to the new national identity - is a problem. Solution? We must work on the upcoming generations: bring together all children to central points where the correct interpretations can be taught.

This is usually where my brain takes a big kaboom. Because, educationally, Gove has built this rhetoric of diversity, choice, of maximum ranges of free schools and academies, where the language is all about freedom. This language seems to be so at odds with what I feel is happening in education - a tightening up of definitions from the centre, a hold over interpretation, a narrowing of acceptable practice, and a restriction on the practicalities of choice.

This is where I had a conversation with someone, and it was quite helpful. They said, Think of your educational landscape not as state schooling supplied free to all children, not as offering maximum choice for parents, not as a system rewarding intelligence, but actually as a regulated private market, whose dealings are opaque to the parent.

Imagine thousands of private schools dotted all over the country. They offer many types of educational provision. These private schools are run by educational suppliers. They operate independently with government approval, or they are part-funded by government.

Every child must be registered in their local area with an educational supplier, and every child must be signed up to one of the approved schemes on offer.

Each school is then accessible to a child in that region by several means - via allocation by a local body, via bursaries, via grants, or via scholarships. To apply for a place at a private school, you, the parent, must prove your residential status. If you are to apply for a grant, or expecting to support in part or in whole the school fees, then you must submit details of household income, your employment information, the taxation you paid and the benefits you received.

A market which contains many, many suppliers in competition with each other, which enforces administrative co-operation from parents, and yet which is managed centrally, has many advantages.

Presentation of your residency credentials, for example, prevents migrants from trying to drop their kids into a local school on a casual basis; the requirement of all parents to apply for an education grant or to provide information of their willingness to part-fund or totally support educational fees brings all citizens within the surveillance of the taxation and economic administration; and a regulation requiring all parents to register at a private school of whatever scheme ensures there is no opt-out, none at all.

They were describing the strange regulated world of private and state education in China. But heigh-ho, starting to look a lot like England.


Deb said...

I don't like it. Why must all governments devote so much energy to CONTROLLING US. Like so many rats in a cage, incapable of independent thought.

Grit said...

no deb, i don't like it either; i have a deep sense of unease about this move, like they are shifting the frameworks more profoundly than we can see. i feel there is a realignment going on. and i don't trust the govian language which slides around over the top.