Thursday, 29 July 2010

Giving schools more freedom

When I was at Cornwall College in the late 80’s, I remember one project we were given was to weigh up the pros and cons of the "Net Book Agreement.” This was an arcane law that fixed the price for all books. Those who supported it said it was needed to protect book shops. Those who wanted to scrap it said the market should decide book prices. As one politician said at the time, “The only way to find out who is right is to scrap it and see what happens.” They did, and no one today can remember why we ever had it.

Which brings me to the lengthy debates we have been having on the Academies Bill this week. Opponents say school independence is a bad thing and the accountants at Cornwall Council wring their hands and worry about money by-passing their bank account and going direct to schools. But head teachers, governors and parents want more independence. They want the freedom to reward good teachers, change their syllabus, change term times and basically be captains of their own ship.

The only way to find out who is right is to try it and see. The key thing about this reform is that is up to schools to decide. No school is being forced to become an independent academy. Some will decide to stay under the wing of Cornwall Council and that is their choice. But those who do want to take control of their own school only have to ask.

I think it’s a great idea. We need our schools to have the freedom and independence that previously only private schools were allowed to have. I have met some fantastic head teachers in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle but they sometimes have to work with one hand tied behind their back. At the moment, head teachers work for the council but under these reforms, the council will work for head teachers. If a school judges that the support services being provided are falling short, then they will be able to fire the council and employ someone else.

The changes which passed into law this week give schools much more independence. Schools will control their own budget and decide their own curriculum and their own school ethos. It also makes it easier for head teachers to reward good teachers by setting pay and conditions. I think this is really important because too often good talent leaves the teaching profession early because the current system is too rigid.

The Prime Minister has often been attacked for the fact that he went to a particularly well known private school. But what some people fail to realise is that few issues motivate him more than education and the new government wants to give all parents the sort of choice that today only money can buy. In ten years time, we might well look back and wonder why on earth it wasn’t done sooner.