Friday, October 1, 2010

"Free" schools - the future?

I was invited to take part in a round table discussion for the BBC politics show about Mr Gove's idea for "free" schools where parents can set up there own independent school using state money. The reason I was asked to take part was because of the campaigning I have done with Merton Parents.

It was suggested to me that since I feel strongly about school food why didn't I set up a school that could focus on teaching great food skills, - gardening, cooking and with terrific school meals.

Now as attractive as that sounds I think this plan has several fatal flaws!

We want good school meals for ALL children in state schools. It is not an optional extra. When we first set up Merton Parents for Better Food in Schools our original demand was for a school kitchen in each and every school. The parents from Wimbledon Park had actually already got a decent kitchen by fundraising themselves but crucially they still supported our campaign because they understood this was something every school needed.

We live in a democracy. We led a democratic campaign to persuade the local authority we had a good case and it worked! The council backed down from their initially hostile position and changed its policy in response. If the response in future to problems with schools is simply to set up your own school we will be letting our children down.

If we had just opted out in the way Toby Young - a parent who wants to set up his own school, argues we should then there would be 39 schools in Merton with out kitchens, new improved menus and decent caterers. My advice to Toby or anyone else wanting to set up a free school was to get stuck in and campaign to get the improvements you want to see in state education.

Of course I am keen to persuade my own children's schools to take a lead on running school gardens and teaching cookery but that is not enough. we need to persuade heads, governors, local authority, parents & education ministers that all schools would benefit from good quality food education.

If I did set up a fantasy free school - would be great for the kids who got in but the resources we would take away from the remaining schools would be immoral.

As both Disney, high school musical and the Tory party say, " we're all in this together!" Let's help our schools to develop and not set up new schools in competition. Turning schools into a free market experiment could be disastrous and will threaten the viability of successful state comprehensives.

The program I took part in will be shown this sunday. Of course I may end up on the cutting room floor!


Joanne Roach said...

I get so sad at the "well if you don't like the way it's done for everyone, why not make something new that works just for you" argument.
If we all did that there would be a very predictable result - those with means would have great services and those without would have none.
People who argue for abandoning 'all' schools in favour of 'my' school must be very wearing to live with. Me me me.
Look forward to seeing the show.