With freedom comes responsibility

28th June 2013 at 01:00

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg said last week that under the Labour Party all schools in England, not just academies and free schools, would be able to determine their own curriculum. This takes us back to debates from the last period of school curricular freedom before 1988. The central question was then and is now: who should have the power to say what schools teach?

The teaching profession is not in a privileged position to say what schools' aims should be, since this leads to political questions about what kind of society we want. This speaks of some kind of political determination of overarching aims. At the same time, teachers are in a privileged position over what vehicles for attaining these aims best suit their school.

This explains why Mr Twigg's plan to free up schools is broadly welcome. But we are still left with a void when we turn to overarching aims. Here, we need some sort of political input - but not of the sort we have been getting from education secretary Michael Gove. "Political input" need not, and should not, mean current ministers infusing the system with their own preferences. We need, instead, some kind of national commission, at arm's length from government, that in the light of extensive public participation states in detail the main aims that all schools are expected to follow. This cannot happen overnight but the bid for school freedom from Mr Twigg (pictured, right) may be a first step along that road. We await more detail on the Labour curriculum. Will the party be bold enough to make the next move?

John White, Institute of Education, University of London.

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