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Free as a bird ... in a cage

"Hello, I'm the head of Bogstandard comprehensive school in North Swineshire and I'd like to talk to somebody about the Government's five-year plan 'to give schools more freedom'."

"Well you've got the right person, squire. As I'm about to get the elbow from the DfES, part of the economy drive. So I can certainly give you the inside story."

"So is it true that schools are going to be freed from political interference?"

"Yes, you will be entirely free to do what the Government tells you to do."

"But it said in all the papers we were being set free. I was really looking forward to it. We've been buried under political initiatives these past few years and I was under the impression that the Government was going to stop ordering us around."

"The official position is that you will be free."

"Good. I'm really pleased ... " "But you've got to become a specialist school."

"Oh dear. We're the only school for miles around and we don't really want to specialise ... " "Tough luck, you've got to, unless you want your vitals displayed on a pole outside your front gate. Any specialism will do, so long as you've got one - hopscotch, brass rubbing, donkey riding, glue sniffing. And you've also got to opt out of your local authority."

"But we get on very well with North Swineshire, they're really helpful."

"Again, tough toenails. You have to get rid of them and come in with us, where you'll get your own special manila folder and be assigned to an official who won't know whether your school is in St Albans or Albania. And all your kids will, to use the official term, 'be expected' to wear a uniform."

"I don't understand. I thought we were going to be free of government interference."

"You've not heard the half of it yet. You'll also have to introduce a house system, like they have in public schools."

"Isn't that a bit old-fashioned?"

"Wrong word. 'Traditional' is what the spinmeisters demand. The official line is that it marks a return to traditional values and practices, a wheeze which has as much chance of luring the filthy rich out of private education and into their local fleapit, as jemmying a minister out of his new limousine and into a 1974 Skoda. Look, I know your kids don't actually live in residential school houses, unlike the toffs, but just pretend they do. And don't try sending the idea up by calling the houses 'Scumbag Hall'

or 'Headlice House'. You've got to ape the public schools so middle-class parents think you're private. Stick to traditional upper-class family names like Fortescue and Fauntleroy."

"I'm really confused now. The Government seems to be interfering in the tiniest detail, yet they said they were setting us free."

"No such luck, squire. Politicians will stop interfering in schools when squirrels give up eating nuts. Interference is a Class A drug for them.

Don't be too surprised if they lay down the colour of the ballcock in the staff toilets."

"So where have all these ideas about telling us what to do come from?"

"Straight from the top."

"What, the Prime Minister himself?"

"No. Andrew Adonis. Don't you get it? The whole thing is an elaborate charade. There aren't any freedoms. Basically the Prime Minister is only interested in middle-class parents. His advisers know this, so they dream up policies they think will appeal to middle-class voters. One of these is to give the appearance that bogstandard comprehensives are going to be killed off and turned into private schools. But they don't really trust you smellies to engineer this, so they announce to parents that you're going to have freedom, like the expensive public schools, and then they tell you exactly what you must do."

"Would we have any more freedom if we applied to become a city academy?"

"Are you joking? A city academy? Some of the village idiots round here want them to be run by the more upmarket public schools, so you'd probably have Toby Farnes-Barnes telling you what to do, instead of our pointyheads."

"But aren't we supposed to be getting control over our budgets?"

"No more than you've got already."

"We're not really going to be free at all then."

"Got it in one, squire. Ofsted will come every three years, instead of every six."

"Looking at our self-evaluations?"

"No, applying a thumbscrew to your willy."

"So is there anything we're going to be free to do?"

"Yes, cough - but I'd make it a gentle one, if I were you."

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