Tuesday 20 July 2010

The nationalisation of schools

What is to become of me - I am agreeing with Simon Jenkins nearly every time I open the Evening Standard (though not, for some reason, when I open the Guardian). He was spot on today about the gap between localism and the Big Society.

Don't get me wrong. The Big Society is an important initiative, and will be more so if it can grow into a truly cross-governmental project to devolve power. Nor am I against the idea of Free Schools. We urgently need more schools, preferably small ones where parents play a key role, though they need to be under the auspices of local authorities.

But Michael Gove seems to be confusing de-regulation with localism. They are not the same, and when you muddle them up, both objectives get compromised. In fact, a gap in understanding seems to be opening up between Conservatives (who see localism as about de-regulation) and Liberals (who see localism as the devolution of control).

Consequently, on the very day of the Big Society launch, we have Michael Gove pushing through plans to nationalise all the schools in the country.

Dependence on a Whitehall department is not the same as localism, and will alienate parents still further from the business of choosing schools. The word 'choice' has in fact become a bitter joke; instead of choice, the parents get an exhausting and stressful runaround. A genuinely localist policy would begin to redress the balance, and that can only be done under the auspices of local government.

Yes, give schools more freedom. But not by nationalising them, because that will not mean either freedom or flexibility in the end.

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