A couple of months ago Ed Dorrell, the features editor at the TES, wrote an editorial about school autonomy and whether or not it is really happening. Unfortunately I can’t give you a link to the piece because you have to subscribe to the TES to see it online. I wrote to him because I felt that he hadn’t made any effort to unpick the terms or look behind the motives of those pushing for greater school ‘autonomy’.
Here’s the email (it’s not as long as the Gabriel Sahlgren one but like that email it also went unanswered):
Some thoughts on your recent editorial: ‘school autonomy’ is something that the appallingly disempowered teachers in this country would love to see across the board (i.e. not just a privilege for certain types of schools); for some reason though it has to be wrapped up with a push for the marketisation of education. The use of the expression ‘school autonomy’ is much the same as the hijacking of the term ‘free school’. This push for marketisation, including the shrewd choice of words, is well documented and understood by those who have studied it (e.g. Kenneth J Saltman) and indeed it is being pushed for by organisations with explicit names like ‘The Centre for Market Reform of Education’. It is a worry for me because a democracy rests on its social institutions. Without publicly accountable social institutions we are not really in a democracy anymore. How long until the House of Commons is privatised? I realise this is facetious which is why I’d like to quote Michael Sandel to make my point for me:
“Democratic governance is radically devalued if reduced to the role of handmaiden to the market economy. Democracy is about more than fixing and tweaking and nudging incentives to make markets work better… (it) is about much more than maximising GDP, or satisfying consumer preferences. It’s also about seeking distributive justice; promoting the health of democratic institutions; and cultivating the solidarity and sense of community that democracy requires. Market mimicking governance – at its best – can satisfy us as consumers. But it can do nothing to make us democratic citizens.”
(Sandel, M. ‘A New Politics of the Common Good’ Lecture 4, BBC Reith Lectures 30th June 2009)
This captures my own misgivings very well.
While I was very glad to hear of the “growing disenchantment” with market-led initiatives I wish you had included the point of view that I’ve tried to put across here. It’s a point of view that is rarely aired in the mainstream media.
You also wrote about “delegated power”: you wrote about shifting authority “as far down as it will go” suggesting that this might even go “all the way to the classroom teacher”. It’s seems sad to me that this should be seen as really extreme (“…all the way”) since teachers are the ones in the classrooms actually doing the teaching! But what is really remarkable is that you don’t even mention the children. Can I recommend a book called ‘Children Don’t Start Wars” by David Gribble? It’s a powerful argument for shifting authority “as far down as it will go”, that is: to the children.
I also note that you, as features and comment editor of the TES, do not have a background in education. With all due respect this seems odd to me. But then again, Michael Gove also has a background in journalism and not in education himself!