Friday, 10 September 2010

Free schools? It's all the others that have to pay

I’M pleased for Clare that it should get a new high school when the middle school closes in 2013.
I hope the proposed Stour Valley Community School turns out to be a good school. There seems to be no reason it won’t be.
As with any school, a lot will depend on the appointment of a good head. Perhaps even more in this case, since they’ll be starting from scratch with the recruitment of an entire staff.
I wish them well.
I wish more that the middle school – whose buildings the new establishment aims to take over – had not been placed under the axe.
Given, though, that Suffolk is unhappily set on scrapping the three-tier schools system, I understand people in Clare wanting to keep post-11 schooling in the town.
The Clare proposal was the only one in Suffolk among the 16 new “free schools” announced with a fanfare this week by education secretary Michael Gove.
Sixteen. Hardly seems worth all the fuss, does it?
Hardly worth the great noise with which the Tories trumpeted “free schools” as their Big Idea.
Or the unseemly haste with which the ConDem government rushed to get their changes under way.
Most of all, not worth the callous scrapping of the Building Schools for the Future project.
Sixteen new “free schools” isn’t much compensation for the 715 school revamps Gove hurried to cancel, leaving pupils and staff throughout the country in dilapidated premises that had been due for rebuilding.
I don’t suppose the privately-educated Gove knows much about life in collapsing comprehensives. Or cares.
The venue he chose to announce the brave 16 was Westminster Academy in west London. It is a comprehensive, but hardly a typical one.
Founded only in 2006, it moved in 2007 into a new “state-of-the-art” building. How some of our shabbier schools – especially those slung up in the 1960s – could use some of the tens of millions spent on it.
But that, of course, is part of the point of the academies – both those established under Tony Blair’s mis-government and those to come under Gove and co.
David Hudson, a headteacher in Rotherham, put the case against academies very well this week.
He said: “If we were to become an academy, it would in essence take money and resources from all the other Rotherham schools and schools across the nation and simply give it to us.
“I am head of an outstanding, high-performing school. I’m already doing very nicely, thank you very much, so why give me extra money at the expense of other schools that need it?”
Good on him – and on all those other heads of outstanding schools, including Farlingaye High in Woodbridge, that have taken the same principled stand.
Support for both the “free schools” and academies came this week from an interesting source.
The Confederation of British Industry (sometimes referred to as the bosses’ union) wants the “free schools” programme extended to allow profit-making companies to join.
The CBI predictably talks about “value for money”, then adds: “Government must open up services to competition and in the case of free schools, allow profit-making companies to be involved.”
Which sounds to me like what it was really about all along – what privatisation is always about.
Never mind the quality, feel the profit.


TWO things shocked me among all the sordid tale of Wayne Rooney’s extra-marital shenanigans.
The world, we are told, is awash with young women eager to give their bodies to famous footballers. Yet here is Wazza, probably the most famous of the lot right now, feeling he has to pay for sex.
Shock two is worse.
It wasn’t the revelation that he paid £200 for a packet of 20 Marlboro. Hell, what’s £200 to a man paid a reputed £120,000 a week?
But what on earth is a bloke who gets that sort of dosh to keep himself fit doing buying cigs at any price?


“I WAS running down the middle of the road where there wasn’t quite so much broken glass, and a man came running from a side street and joined me.
“We were running side-by-side towards the fire, which I thought might be my home. I said: ‘Good evening.’ And he said: ‘Good evening.’
“Then he said: ‘I just came out of my house and it fell down around me.’
“ ‘Oh, I am so sorry,’ said I. ‘Oh well, goodbye’ – because our ways parted again. It was just as matter-of-fact as that.”
The words are those of my mother, then resident in London. And of course she was recalling the Blitz – which, as you may have noticed, began 70 years ago this week.
If nothing else, that one episode reveals how far Hitler failed in his aim to destroy British morale.
In fact, all these decades later, the “Blitz spirit” is still very much part of how we define our Britishness.
And I’ll be sharing more thoughts on that in this column next week.

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