Alan Dee: Parent power puts free schools in freefall

BACK to school time is upon us, and this term we’re expected to get our heads around yet another pie in the sky educational initiative dreamed up by politicians with little experience with the sharp end of state education.

Every supposed step forward of recent years, from grant-maintained status and the National Curriculum to today’s expensive academies, has been foisted on us for the most part by millionaire men in suits.

That description fits the latest education minister Michael Gove just as well as it fits his boss David Cameron.

The big idea here is ‘free schools’ – but the catch is that they’re more expensive as far as the taxpayer is concerned because of the carrots that have to be dangled in order to get people to take the plunge.

Despite all sorts of incentives and a sustained promotional campaign, just 24 free schools open up and down the country this term.

Meanwhile, staff and pupils have hauled themselves back into the routine at 20,000 other state-funded schools.

You, boy, what’s 24 as a percentage of 20,000? You’re right, it’s not a very big figure, is it?

The idea of local people setting up schools scores a big tick with the government’s Big Society agenda.

They want to see schools funded directly by Westminster, semi-independent and outside of local authority control, and with the freedom to vary the school day, terms, the curriculum and teachers’ pay and conditions.

So based on our experience of how parents can be relied upon to get involved in the education of their little darlings, what can we expect?

Well, first of all, all staff will henceforth turn up five minutes before lessons start and expect to find a parking space within 10 paces of the front gate.

If there are, say, 40 members of staff and they all faithfully promise to support an out of hours event, three of them will actually do so and only two of the others will let you know that they won’t be able to make it.

At the end of the year, even those parents who have been paying attention will jack it all in if their little darlings are moving on.

And if any child should fall short in any area of school achievement, whether that’s exam grades, sporting prowess, or general behaviour there will be all hell to pay – and don’t try to introduce any discipline if the kid’s mum or dad have elbowed their way onto the governing body.

As for the curriculum, geography will be restricted to where we went on holiday this year, history will only stretch back over living memory, English will begin and end with Harry Potter. Maths and science will be fobbed off onto somebody else and a frank and illuminating talk about sex education and morals will be held at some time, we’re just not sure when.

And on the current affairs curriculum, there certainly won’t be time for a measured debate on whether this whole free schools bandwagon is another gimcrack gimmick that won’t get anywhere until the majority of parents, and their kids, actually see the point of a decent education and do their bit to make it happen.