Mixed messages as new school year begins

05 Sep 2011

 So - after a summer of riots and the usual hand-wringing over exam results - the new school year in England has begun with politicians once again focusing on a minority issue: the 24 new free schools that are opening this term.

Keen to show the difference between the coalition partners, the Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, is saying that he will not tolerate free schools being run for profit. It is his line in the sand on education policy. For his sake, he'd better hope it proves a more permanent line than the one he drew on university tuition fees.

In fact, there is already a rather fine distinction between a for-profit company running a free school directly and a for-profit company being engaged to manage a free school by its promoters. The former is currently not allowed, the latter is.

Discussing the riots

 Meanwhile, in schools the dilemma for heads and teachers is whether or not to tackle the issue of the summer riots head-on. Should it be the topic for assemblies and  citizenship/PHSE lessons? Is it as relevant in areas unaffected by the riots as in those close to the places hit by looting? I suspect most schools will feel it is something they must address, whilst feeling it is unfair to put all the onus on schools as opposed to parents.

Looking ahead more generally, this is going to be a school year more affected than most by issues of revenue and capital funding, stretched school budgets and disputes over staff pay and pensions. Compared to these issues, the couple of dozen or so free schools will seem a distraction.

Reading the top priority

And, getting down to fundamentals, the Director of the National Education Trust, Roy Blatchford, has reminded us that, above all else, this school year should be about addressing reading skills.

In a start-of-term guest article for this website, he urges all primary and secondary schools to make reading - which he describes as the 'golden key' to the rest of the curriculum -  their top priority for 2011-12. Read his article here: www.mikebakereducation.co.uk/articles/88/schools-should-make-reading-skills-their-top-priority 

Your own ideas on the top priorities for schools in 2011-12 are welcome. Please post them below.


User Comments

Aled - 05 Sep 2011

Nick Clegg and tuition fees

'he'd better hope it proves a more permanent line than the one he drew on university tuition fees.'

I find it disappointing that you perpetuate this line of populist thinking. There is no doubt that he did draw that particular line in the sand but when the Election tide came in he didn't get a majority and the line was no longer. He entered into negotiations with DC and as a result had to prioritise his policies for a coalition agreement. It is a fact of life I'm afraid. I have no doubt that there are similar compromises made at your kitchen table as there are at mine.

Keep up your good work.

Iftikhar Ahmad - 05 Sep 2011

The Londonistan Summer

A small black child carried a sign during the L.A. riots and it read, "No Justice No Peace".

The child's sign holds true in gaza, L.A. and the world. No justice triggers revolutions.

My belief, justice will come sooner or later. And, late justice comes with a high price.

London's rioters are the products of a crumbling nation, and an indifferent political class that has turned its back on them. The meaninglessness of the riots speak of problems with deeper roots than just material need: an underlying lostness in our culture around issues of identity and relationships. Alienated young men and women, some of them barely more than children, have taken this as an opportunity to steal, riot, burn and to generally kick against authority.

British Muslims, estimated at nearly two million, have repeatedly complained of maltreatment by police and discrimination by the British Establishment and society for no apparent reason other than being Muslim. Just a few days ago Norway suffered the wrath of a right-wing extremist. We have been told that this was ‘unexpected".

Whether it is a group of people blowing up the twin towers in NY, a group bombing the London underground, an individual murdering children in Norway, or rioters and looters in London; these and other groups have a single objective in mind, to protest – not lawfully, but through any means possible, irrespective of the consequences of their actions, be it the loss of life or the destruction of property. The problem is, every time society suffers in this way, it is so much easier to blame someone else than to reflect on whether we were part of the problem in the first place; e.g. spending billions on wars which many of us did not believe we needed in the first place all the while basic services are being cut.

Andrew Hobbs - 13 Sep 2011

Discussing the riots - an opportunity for participatory democracy

I am pleased you have highlighted the importance of schools discussing the riots. The dilemma is not just about whether to discuss them but how. The risk of making it an assembly topic is to miss the opportunity to listen to and engage students in expressing their own views.
Martin Luther King once described riots as "the voice of the powerless" and, if this has only a small element of truth, there is a powerful message for schools about how many young people feel today (including many of the majority who would never riot.) At the start of a new academic year in which teachers' associations and other trade unions are discussing industrial action and "civil disobedience" in opposition to public spending cuts and changes to pensions, the nature of democratic participation will be a central issue. I propose that a priority of this academic year should be to extend the student voice to incorporate participatory democracy and the pro-social skills of critical activism. This poses many challenges for schools but would address feelings of powerlessness and begin to offer an active alternative to the 'thin' democracy that frequently is the characteristic of our modern British systems.


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