What on earth is going on…

Each week, I write to a private audience of over 400 teachers and fellow professionals in Independent Schools, in a newsletter to highlight topical issues in education. The network is known as the ISANet, and as my latest is almost entirely topical on national issues, I thought I would share it live so to speak.

Half-Term Newsletter 23 May 2011 

Dear colleagues

It beginning to get a bit hard to write a suitable digest each Monday night to inform, highlight, extend and occasionally amuse – this is because no week now passes without many massive news hits that have direct impact upon schools!

ISC are up in front of the Upper Tribunal, sitting at the Royal Courts of Justice in London to challenge the Charity Commission’s ‘narrow’ definition of Public Benefit.  It’s quite obvious that this case is far more explosive than some might suggest – http://goo.gl/BV3RB gives you a flavour of the sharp debate.  As a proprietor, I am watching this very carefully indeed, as this is an ill-wind, a court case to have been avoided like the plague.  In the current climate, we don’t need yet more bad news about private education.

Sticking with the BBC site, here’s the news of the proposed new East London Free School sponsored by a whole bunch of Public Schools for the sub £25k family income earners – http://goo.gl/mme1y.  What strikes me about such a proposal is that as a one off, with a shared address book of the rich and famous London Livery companies or peoples, I’ll not be surprised if it doesn’t take off – but where on earth is the scalability of such projects?  Yep, they’ll all study from 8pm to 5pm, follow compulsory activities such as debating and public speaking, play sport and serve the community, as if schools don’t do this now?

Following in similar drift, Mr Gove is now suggesting that popular state schools should be allowed to scale up indefinitely, with the obvious result that the weaker failing schools will be allowed to do just that – fail. It will be those with sharp elbows that get first on the bus to swap places, and those that know least that will get swallowed up in the swamp. I thought the whole point about the consistent development of outstanding schools in the recent past was that to continue to get the money, they’d have to take the failing schools under their wings. This new policy smacks of Titanic type ‘fitting-out’, only providing enough lifeboats for the First Class passengers.

It is extraordinary isn’t it; despite none of the current coalition government coming from a teaching background, they all seem remarkably rich with initiatives – David Willetts’ short-lived idea that the rich could bypass UCAS selection by paying the ‘foreign’ tuition fee seemed a perfect idea until it hit the press – here’s what the Mumsnet shriek looked like – http://goo.gl/VHqQ3

As Theresa Ward and Paul Bevis comment on the ISANet, we are ill-served by the recent glaring headlines that the Council of Europe want to see radio-waves removed from our schools, or at least those generated by the wi-fi networks and by mobile phones.  This seems classic bad science, almost dare I say as bad as the Rapture moment that failed to arrive this weekend – as Kiwis spotted first that the earth did not end after all on Saturday, here a link from down under to follow that – http://goo.gl/YHmVY. The problem about the EMR stuff messing with children’s brains is that it was front page of the Telegraph, so it must be true!  For a balanced view of this, please go to your ISANet and read a little more –  or here http://goo.gl/WyeRQ. The thing we do know as teachers is that we would not give our children mobile phones under secondary school age – and most of us find it incomprehensible that children much younger are permitted to have so much contact with their microwaves – see here from the horror movie – http://youtu.be/V94shlqPlSI.

Final piece of doom on the Government cuts comes from the BBC – which gets my BATA vote for best easy to access news service on the Web – this is the story about childcare tax credits which look doomed from 2013 – http://goo.gl/dhCY1.

It does seem to me to be extraordinary that the early noughties might be looked back upon as the Halcyon days of consensual politics in education, when government listened to the early years educators, developed some really joined-up excellent EYFS care and associated funding and ensured above all that the incredibly diligent early years professional staff engaged in training and support to lead our provision from a cottage industry of all-sorts to being the envy of the developed world, or at least that bit of it that needed early years care. After a decade of incredible, careful and well planned steps, our Nursery provision now is being decimated by the inclusion of just 4 year olds in state primary provision. You can find some enlightened professional opinion on this matter in the UK, just across the Scottish boarders as it happens, where the debate continues to rage that children should stay that extra year til 6 in Nursery – http://goo.gl/piUWE!

To conclude, I do believe that the challenge consenting, co-ordinating amazing independent schools such as ours are under real threat from the current tide of negativity.  Every day, amazing things happen in our schools; pupils and teachers come together and work, learn, inspire, perspire and yes cry with frustration when stuff doesn’t go well, but that’s the creative process. And what we do is a precious commodity, carefully honed over many years by dedicated families working hand in glove with very special places we call ‘ISA’ schools.  If you feel like joining your voice to mine, please add to the blog on the ISANet, or of course below on this ‘Principled View’.

James Wilding

jtw@clairescourt.com

About jameswilding

Academic Principal Claires Court Schools Long term member & advocate of the Independent Schools Association
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