Friday 6 March 2009

More schools, smaller schools. The rest is noise.

I can’t be in Harrogate this weekend, which is frustrating, because I wanted to listen to the education debate – though it may be that I will actually stay less frustrated in the end by not doing going.

The proposals on offer are all excellent and urgent. I especially agree with the idea that local authorities can commission parent and voluntary groups to start new schools. But, let’s face it: there isn’t much in there which addresses the main problem about education, the one that looms over all the others. There are not enough schools.

No amount of changing the curriculum, ending micro-management and measuring differently is going to deal with that. Nor is the pupil premium, important though that is.

There are 5,000 pupils in London at secondary school level which have no places, and many thousands more who are being bussed across London to places they would not dream of applying to. Ed Davey is doing really excellent work on this.

The problem is partly that there are not enough good schools, and the proposals will help tackle that. But often they are not good enough because they are too big and inhuman and are therefore miserably letting children down, especially at secondary level.

It is also to do with this fantasy about ‘catchment areas’, as if everyone lived in one. In practice, the catchment area of our local primary school is only about 200 yards around the school. Most people in my neighbourhood live outside any catchment area and are at the mercy of the local authority (Croydon, ugh!).

Education ought to be central to the Lib Dem cause. It isn’t going to really be so until we come up with proposals for a massive programme of new schools and of breaking up the existing ones into smaller, more human and more effective units.

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