Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Labour vs Tories on ‘parent power’

Here are two education policies (or the rough outlines, at least):

Tory manifesto:
Drawing on the experience of the Swedish school reforms and the charter school movement in the United States, we will break down barriers to entry so that any good education provider can set up a new Academy school.

Labour manifesto:
Where parents are dissatisfied with the choice of secondary schools in an area, local authorities will be required to act, securing take-overs of poor schools, the expansion of good schools, or in some cases, entirely new provision. Where parents at an individual school want change, they will be able to trigger a ballot on whether to bring in a new leadership team from a proven and trusted accredited provider.

These are both attempts to give parents who aren’t happy with their local secondary schools the power to do something about it, rather than just hoping that the government or council will take notice and get something done. The Tory policy has been around for a while; the Labour proposal, as far as I know, is new.

Three things have always troubled me about the Tory plan (even if we assume that parents in areas with poor schools will be up to the task of organising a new one). First, creating a new school from scratch to compete with one that already exists is going to cost a lot: the initial costs will be huge and then the resulting overcapacity will need to be funded unless and until the old school closes down.

Second, it takes time to establish a new school, and while this is happening, the failing school is not just going to be left alone to fester. If the latter can be improved in time, the efforts that have gone into setting up the new one will have been needless.

Third, if the new school does turn out to be much better than the old, then the process of shifting kids out of one and into the other will be slow and sporadic – disruptive in the short-term for the children whose parents switch them and demoralising for those that remain where they are in an increasingly unpopular sink school.

The Labour plan, while still letting local parents set the ball rolling, avoids these flaws. Replacing the leadership of a school, or making it part of a federation, can be done less expensively and more quickly than creating a new, rival school, and the benefits will be felt by all the children of the once-failing school without their parents having to decide when and whether to jump ship.

And so it’s a better plan. It may not be a sneaky way of undermining LEAs (which the Tories have long been in the business of), but it’s a better, faster, cheaper, more efficient way of overhauling the local choice of schools when parents think this is urgently needed.


Liam Murray said...

That's misleading Tom; you're contrasting a Tory commitment to more acadamies with Labour policy on empowering parents. In truth both support both.

Page 53 of the Tory manifesto says:

"[A]ny school that is
in special measures for more than a year will
be taken over immediately by a successful
Academy provider. To give parents better
access to a good school, we will:
• give parents the power to save local schools
threatened by closure, allowing communities
the chance to take over and run good small

Semantics aside that's identical to the Labour extract you used.

Tom Freeman said...

No I'm not. I haven't mentioned the Tory position on creating more academies generally, nor Labour's position on, er, creating more academies generally, nor either party's positions on various other aspects of secondary education.

I'm clearly and overtly comparing the aspects of their policies that specifically relate to what parents would be able to do to shake things up when faced with bad schools.

BTW on the Tory proposal to allow parents to keep open schools that they don't want closed (the opposite situation to wanting new ones opened), Paul's anecdote suggests this can already be done.

Tom Freeman said...

Actually, on re-reading, let me modify that response. The Tory manifesto quote doesn't itself make explicit that it's intended for this to happen as a result of local parental pressure - but it is. That's what the Sweden/USA analogies are getting at. And, separately, they also want more academies overall.

Sorry for the inclarity.

Liam Murray said...

Not sure I follow Tom. I'll avoid direct use of the language either party uses to avoid confusion but:

- Both parties will allow parents to take over existing education provision where they're unhappy with it.

- Both support that takeover EITHER in the context of a brand new academic provider running the existing schools OR creating a new one (and both manifestos mention both scenarios)

So what's the difference...?

Tom Freeman said...

Sure. They're not exactly models of good prose.

The Tories want schools to be taken over by successful academy providers if inspectors deem them to be persistently failing; the role of parental activism is focused on creating new schools rather than overhauling/restructuring existing provision.

Labour want parents to be able to act on their discontent by voting to force changes to the way existing schools are run, including takeovers by successful providers; setting up a new school is only one possible outcome of this, and - being the most drastic and practically tricky - presumably the least likely.

Liam Murray said...

Cheers Tom - I see the distinction now.

Given the potential (likely?) hostile response from unions and LEAs you could make a case that parental activism SHOULD lean towards totally new provision a la the Tory method. I guess both parties are falling back on ideology because Labour will only 'require local authorites to act' which hardly sounds radical to me.

Good to know I'm not the only sad git that reads the things though! Trying to convince myslef that I don't need to do todays release (Sorry Nick!)

Tom Freeman said...

Natch the LEAs will resist anything that weakens them, although that fact is hardly a plus or minus in itself.

And I know, reading these things is a bit freakish (I've only been skimming, to tell the truth). I gather that the LDs have taken the unconventional step of actually giving some numbers on the deficit, which may be worth a look for ballsiness if nothing else.

(BTW I think it's a national disgrace that the hi-res PDF of the Tory manifesto is 77 megs! And the low-res one is a bit blurry.)

Tunya Audain said...


Liberal Democrats surge in UK election. So, we need to also examine their manifesto.

"Give all schools the freedom to innovate. We will ensure a level playing field for admissions and funding and replace Academies with our own model of ‘Sponsor-Managed Schools’. These schools
will be commissioned by and accountable to local authorities and not Whitehall, and would allow other appropriate providers, such as educational charities and parent groups, to be involved in delivering state-funded education.
- Allow parents to continue to choose faith-based schools within the state-funded sector and allow the establishment of new faith schools..."

I'm watching the UK election from Canada and am so pleased that finally "parent power" counts, as highlighted by Freeman. And notice the use of the word "trigger". This comes from the Parent Revolution in California where 51% of parents can trigger a change of style in their schools, charter, school-based management or other.

I like the New Zealand parent power. All school boards (LEAs) were abolished and each school now has a parent-led board -- for 20 years now!