Freedom - but only if you think like a Tory

30th November 2007 at 00:00
No one can have failed to notice the Conservative party's gain in the polls in recent weeks following a series of difficult issues for the Government. While the election is probably more than two years away, maybe it's time to start having a serious look at Tory education policy and what it might mean for schools and families.

In his Time for Change speech back in September, David Cameron promised a political agenda of freedom and control. This included a vision where schools are able to set their own rules on discipline and an environment where teachers are happy and proud to do their job without interference from on high. Last week saw the publication of the Conservative "green paper" 'Raising the bar, closing the gap'. While the introduction reinforces the same theme - emphasising that politicians should stop pretending they can fix every problem and instead start trusting people because they usually do the right thing - closer scrutiny reveals some interesting detail.

For example, there is an expectation that all primary schools will use synthetic phonics to teach reading and that Ofsted will be required to check up to make sure they do. The paper also suggests that all schools should set pupils according to their academic ability in every subject area. In addition, detailed guidance is given on how schools should use credits and debits as part of their behaviour management systems, including the notion that once every term the balance of these credits and debits should be calculated and rewards given or privileges removed. All schools will also be expected to have a strict school uniform policy of blazer, shirt and tie. Oh, and lunch really ought to be about an hour.

While many of these ideas are already being successfully used in lots of schools, the issue is not about whether they are right or not. It's about the very existence of the detail at all within the "green paper". It seems as if the Tories are keen to trust individuals to do the right thing so long as it agrees with what they think the right thing actually is. Asking Ofsted to monitor whether schools insist on pupils standing up when a visitor enters a classroom, for example, does seem to suggest that they didn't quite mean it when they said they will only give leadership on the issues that really matter. When David Cameron said their approach was all about "freedom and control" some of the Tory education team seem to have missed the point that it was the people, not the politicians that were meant to do the control bit.

Andy Buck's 'Making school work: a practical guide to secondary school leadership' is published by Greenwich Exchange.

Andy Buck, Headteacher of the Eastbrook-Jo Richardson Partnership in Barking and Dagenham.

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