'The idea that parents should pay £500 for state education is nonsense. Teachers will know where to file it'

23rd November 2016 at 12:15
Michael Tidd
Sir Andrew Carter’s proposal this week isn’t so much privatisation by the back door as opening the front door and giving it a hearty welcome, argues one primary teacher-writer

I’ve never met Sir Andrew Carter but his words this week have been sufficient to make me think he’s probably not the kind of head I’d like to work for. According to TES, after his recent speech for the Girls’ Schools Association, Sir Andrew felt it was wise to call for freedom to charge for state education.

There are many who’ve complained that academisation might lead to privatisation by the backdoor; Sir Andrew seems to think that we may as well bring it in through the front, in a special golden carriage.

His caveat, presumably meant to soften the idiotic blow, was to say that schools charging up to £500 per child would be able to pay for those eligible for the pupil premium. It’s perhaps worth noting that the school where he used to be head has levels of pupil premium eligibility that are around a fifth of the national proportion.

Perhaps £500 donations are easy to come by in Farnham, where Sir Andrew is chief executive of the South Farnham Educational Trust? Certainly the incomes in that part of Surrey are likely to be considerably above average. But what of the schools in Blackpool, or Lowestoft – or Crawley, where I grew up? Does he imagine that families in those areas have such cash lying spare, just waiting for a good cause? Indeed, in many such areas levels of pupil premium eligibility are considerably higher. Does Sir Andrew propose increasing the pupil premium fund by a further £500 per pupil… or should these schools just expect to live within their meagre means?

And for those families who don’t receive such funding? The newly-coined “just about managing” sorts? Does a local market emerge, where instead of having to weigh up the cost of uniforms, parents instead have to hunt around for the cheapest education in town? It’s certainly one way of avoiding the selection by ability issues: just select by willingness to pay everywhere.

Perhaps it would bring a whole new meaning to the term “free school”?

Under Sir Andrew’s scheme, what happens if parents are unable – or unwilling – to pay the charge? And let’s be clear, it was a charge that Sir Andrew described. Are the children kicked out of the school? And if every school charges £500, do they just drop out altogether? Or perhaps the school simply takes the parents to court, funded by its new parent fund? Can we find room in our prisons for the parents who can’t pay for their child’s education, and so fail to have them educated?

Frankly, the idea is nonsense.

I’d entirely agree that we should aim to have the same excellent facilities in our state schools as private schools provide. Absolutely we need more money in schools that Christmas fairs can provide. Certainly the system we have is complicated. But if Sir Andrew thinks that we can solve these national problems – and tackle the all-important gap between disadvantaged pupils and the more wealthy – then relying on parental funding is absolutely the wrong way to go about it.

Either Sir Andrew is wildly out of touch with reality, or he cares only for the further achievement of the haves over the have nots. We’d do well to file his idea exactly where it belongs.

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