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Big Issue: Secondary Schools Admissions Procedure

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A Lesson from History

Demo at Hove Town Hall
click the photo to see
a map of the catchment areas

Back in the 1980s the Tory government of the day introduced three major changes to state education: a National Curriculum, Local Management of Schools (LMS) and 'parental choice' in school admissions along with Ofsted and school league tables.

The National Curriculum was intended to set down a national framework for what is taught in the nation's schools, a matter previously and largely left to the initiative of local education authorities (LEAs) and the teaching profession. It needs to be remembered that while the Tories were winning general elections and sustaining their tenure of office at Westminister, they were year on year losing local elections to Labour. Local democracy was increasingly seen as the enemy within, most notably in the case of the Greater London Council, Red Ken Livington's power base. (Eventually it was abolished, leaving London, Europe's largest capital city without a city government.)

As a work of reference for teachers, the national curriculum was a reasonable achievement, but as a blunt instrument for dragooning teachers in the classroom, and for 'tick boxing' pupils, it was stupidity incarnate. I well remember various attempts of educationists to devise workable methods to record little Johnny's progress through the jungle of 'attainment targets' and 'statements of attainment' through the years and across the disciplines that were deigned important enough to be included in the national curriculum. It was a Gradgrindian system of nightmarish proportions, and in 1993 the then Secretary of State, John Patten, appeared at the dispatch box in the Commons to declare: "I have asked Sir Ron Dearing to review the national curriculum and assessment framework with the aim of simplifying it while retaining the key features of clear teaching objectives, regular tests and high standards." And so began, and continues, the permanent revolution of central government direction of the classroom, and the mountains of educational bureaucracy which that entails at great financial cost to the taxpayer, and to the real cost of actual teaching in the classroom and to pupil-teacher relationships.

Local Management of Schools (LMS)

The ideological bedrock of Thatcherism was a belief in the primacy of the market in all human relationships that have an economic dimension. The guiding hand of the market was also the guiding hand of policy direction during the 18 years of Conservative rule. LMS was championed as a blow to the dead hand of town hall bureaucracy, handing financial responsibility for school budgets to head teachers and school governors. The result was a transfer of school management bureaucracy from town hall education departments (LEAs) to a myriad of schools, and the pitting of one school against another in the scramble for resources.

The result was that head teachers spent less and less of their time on curriculum leadership and more and more on running a pseudo business in a pseudo marketplace. It comes as no surprise to discover that the New Labour government, which has continued the Tory policy with endless tinkering year on year, has recenly commissioned consultants, PricewaterhouseCoopers (sic), to advise it that schools should be run by business leaders and head teachers left with the minor role of managing education in the school (see BBC report - click here). Soon, I expect, our schools will be run by PricewaterhouseCoopers (sic) education subsidiary.

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