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Charlie Rigby:"We want young people to make the most of their lives through a well-rounded education"

Is Corbyn wrong when it comes to education?

Charlie Rigby says it would be a mistake to bring free schools back under local authority control

Posted by Stephanie Broad | October 08, 2015 | People, policy, politics

To call Jeremy Corbyn an idealist and policy romantic would be both an understatement and cliché. His ideas never fail to challenge the status quo and provoke our thinking - but when it comes to education, I believe he’s got the wrong end of the stick. 

I would challenge Corbyn’s contempt for free schools and academies and his goal of creating a National Education Service. His lack of substance on the matter has already been revealed when he backtracked after Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell rescinded Corbyn’s commitment that free schools would be returned to local council control, allowing instead for local government to intervene whenever necessary. 

Free schools are well-placed and incentivised to drive up academic standards and empower teachers and governors 

He will have to resort to a similarly subtle watering down of the bold views he has put forward. Ms. Powell added that Labour would have to fully think through the policy before they commit (anew). Yet, having worked to improve schools up and down the country, I cannot say I’m optimistic.  

His main objection to free schools and academies is that they are unaccountable and therefore local control needs to be restored. Why is he so naturally suspicious of free schools whilst so trusting of local authorities? Then, he fails to consider that free schools and academies are in fact answerable to the Education Funding Agency, Regional Schools Commissioners and parents. Who is to say that they represent students’ interest less faithfully than local councils and the state by and large?  

Rather than rhetoric, what we need is evidence to support these views. Free schools are well-placed and incentivised to drive up academic standards and empower teachers and governors rather than bureaucrats reporting back to Westminster.  

Schools have come a long way in their journey to gain a semblance of autonomy from the state. This serves to sustain morale among teachers, which is something this country should consider. Constantly having to answer to local councils would slow them down and drain morale, as we would be implicitly telling them how to do their jobs. Schools have fought tooth and nail to make sure teachers are properly consulted and Labour now threatens to reverse these gains. 

I must also take issue with his hope for a National Education Service. Again, this is a concept that stems from an unrelenting faith in the state’s perfect knowledge of how education should work. Corbyn takes education to be the ultimate “collective” good from which we all stand to gain, but we have to focus on individual students and the values they cultivate and need to later contribute back to society. This is far from simply the things they learn in the classroom and is the wider character development they undertake outside of a school’s four walls. 

Of course, we want young people to make the most of their lives through a well-rounded education, but under Corbyn’s plan I worry this will not be the case. Instead, if a National Education Service is implemented, the reality is society will be going at the speed of the slowest - and this is in nobody’s interest. 

Charlie Rigby is founder of the Challenger Trust.

www.challengertrust.org

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