Swedish - 'Free school' system puts pay to equal education

16th October 2009 at 01:00

While supporting its members wherever they work, Voice remains unconvinced that choice - and therefore competition - is the way to produce an education system in which high-quality provision is available to all ("A chill wind in Manchester as Tories unveil plan for schools", October 9).

Rather than an anarchic free-for-all, in which the most vociferous parents get what they want, all families should have access to quality local education, and all schools should receive the investment they need to deliver that education.

A "try a bit of this, and try a bit of that" buffet approach to provision risks chaos and confusion. Having a choice - "free schools", "technical schools", "academies" - is not some magical panacea.

Investment, leadership, management, ethos, positive relationships with local communities and support for, and from, families are the engines of improvement, not a school's status. Academies' mixed results demonstrate this. Forcing schools to become academies would be counter-productive.

Anders Hultin, the architect of the Swedish "free school" system, has already criticised the Conservatives' plans. Importing part of an idea from another country with a different education system and social attitudes and trying to make it fit here is a risky ideological experiment that could fail, damaging children's education.

The "technical academies" will be available only to children living in 12 cities so seem a gesture rather than a strategy. Such schools could segregate young people, denying them a broad education and creating a "them and us", "academic" versus "vocational" divide.

Ending or varying national agreements on pay and conditions would be divisive and demotivating and could damage recruitment and retention.

Ian Toone, Senior professional officer (education), Voice: the union for education professionals, Derby.

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