Gordon Brown’s educational initiative today looks like a Cameron Mark 2 effort. It did not work with inheritance tax. Our watered down, slightly less-outrageous, rich-people friendly version upset Labour’s friends and failed to please our opponents.
The Tories are hooked on parental rule. It is superficially attractive. They intend to ape the Swedish model. There, a small number of schools have some autonomy. They are all neighbourhood schools and have no choice of pupils. All Scandinavian schools are impressive as are all their social services. That is the result of half a century of Social Democratic government. Finland's system is superior. All Finnish schools are on an equal footing.
Cameron's parents' power is likely to be as successful as Major's 'parents' choice'. Well-heeled articulate parents thought they had the right to elbow their way into the best performing schools. Most were disappointed and complained loudly. All parents opt for the best-performing schools. If 'choice' became a reality the favoured schools would expensively expand and others schools would have empty wasted places. That cannot work without pushing up costs and damaging education for most people.
Parents in England might be able to trigger council intervention in unsatisfactory local schools under new plans announced. 'Parents' would be challenging 'Teachers.' Inevitably fathers and mothers concentrate their enthusiasm onthe well-being of their own children's achievements. Teachers have wider responsibilities and interests.
Lamely it is admitted today that 'Details have yet to be worked out but might involve local authorities surveying parental opinion.' We know where that will lead us. It was promised today that the 'drive for world class schools in Britain will require a more strategic role for government, intervening when schools consistently under-perform, but standing back and allowing teachers and school leaders greater freedom to innovate.' So that's government interfering and not interfering.
Thank goodness it will not happen in Wales. We have some splendid schools in Newport and no sink schools. The disparity between the best and worst schools does not happen in Wales. The Assembly will ensure that it will happen. That is the result of allocating resources on those schools that have the greatest challenges.
Many years ago, I sat on a body that appointed all Newport's heads and deputy heads. It was a constant irritation that only half a dozen candidates applied for jobs in schools on the wrong side of the tracks. A good fifty would apply for the schools in prosperous middle class areas. Those kids who had already lost out with semi-iterate parents of low ambition were losing out in the restricted choice of headteachers.
We all want world class schools. Getting rid of the once politically inspired mistake of SATS would help. Trusting in the teachers and keeping them well resourced would be even better.
Parents and children, beware of politicians offering Utopian bright ideas.
They usually fail.
Polly bares all
She said it was like going naked. To do it on your own is embarrassing. But if everyone else is naked, what the hell? Polly Toynbee was asked by Gordon Prentice how much she earned. MPs are already naked. We get £65,000.
Out of a panel of four, only Polly Toynbee revealed her salary as £106,000. The three declined. Now we are in the world of abject openness, could we hear what our critics on the Mail or Express are getting - and their expenses. But they are not paid out of public funds-directly. What about David Dimbleby? He is paid out of public funds.
Perhaps Polly is leading a new spirit of openness. Tomorrow she will praised in an early Day Motion which will invite others to follow her example. I look forward to reading these frank confessions in our tabloid press.