Woodhead backs Tories to hand state school reins to profit-making firms

15th January 2010 at 00:00
Outspoken former schools chief also wants national curriculum scrapped and says market forces would curb teachers' 'arrogance'

Former chief inspector of schools Chris Woodhead has called for a future Conservative government to tear up the existing national curriculum and legislate to allow profit-making companies to run state schools.

The controversial educationist, who was chief executive of the National Curriculum Council in the early 1990s, said shadow education secretary Michael Gove should push his "free school" policy further as a way of "checking the professional arrogance" of teachers.

Writing in this week's TES, Professor Woodhead claims that these plans would only work as long as Conservative strategists accept that only profit-making firms, freed from the current curriculum, should become the dominant schools provider.

"If the Conservatives were to burn the regulations and cull the bureaucrats and hated inspectors, we would not be turning the clock back to that golden land where teachers knew best and nobody knew what they were doing," writes Professor Woodhead, who is currently chair of the private schools chain Cognita.

"For, at the heart of the Conservative plans for state education lie supply-side reforms, which, if implemented properly, would ensure that state schools, like independent schools, would need to respond to the aspirations of their parents.

"They would, in other words, be subject to market forces and a genuine market in education would provide a far better check on professional arrogance and complacency than Ofsted, say, ever has."

Professor Woodhead, who last year revealed that he is suffering from a fatal form of motor neurone disease, said charities and parents' groups on their own would not set up enough free schools to bring about significant competition in education.

"The evidence in Sweden is that expansion of the alternative free schools has depended upon the involvement of for-profit companies that have the financial motive and the expertise to develop a significant number of schools," he writes.

"His (Michael Gove's) free schools must, moreover, be genuinely free. They will be funded by, but otherwise independent of, the state, free to define their own individual ethos, competing one with another in the marketplace.

But Helen Flynn, national executive member of the Campaign for State Education, argued: "What the 30-year long experiment with free markets has shown us is that markets fail and when they do so, they do it spectacularly with a huge and damaging impact on Joe Public.

"If the state is to fund schools there has to be an over-arching philosophy and a guarantee, that you can expect to receive a certain level of education. The fickleness of the market will never achieve that."

Platform, page 41.

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