At last we are getting some clear light between the Conservative and Labour Parties’ official positions on education. Tristram Hunt, shadow education secretary, is talking about the need to terminate free schools and allow the money invested there to support smaller class sizes. Don’t hold your breath, though, because the sort of figures he is talking about (class sizes that have drifted up to 40+ for some pupils) are ones that need urgent remedial attention and immediate investment in teachers and classrooms for the schools affected. What will not happen under Labour, therefore, is the provision of new free schools that may or may not meet the need. We probably won’t get a huge number of schools with higher ratios of teachers to pupils, as desirable as that would be.
In Milton Keynes, the proposed Charis School, a free school for 4-19 age ranges, with small class sizes, using the International Primary Curriculum (nice to be able to afford it!) is going back and having another look at their application so it can be approved by government, with the hope of opening in 2016. As opposed as I am to free schools, I recognise that the Charis School shares many of my aims for education and in many ways has the same godly desire for children’s learning as we do at Christ the Sower. And 4-19 education is an innovation in the UK that is absolutely at the heart of what it means to educate children, and one that should be supported wherever possible.
I have to take issue with their claim that there is no school in Milton Keynes that caters for all of the Christian denominations present in Milton Keynes (they list most of the recognised Protestant ones, but significantly not Roman Catholic or Orthodox). We do exactly that, and more. Their claim is that their “ethos will be broadly Christian,” which means very little, and indicates that they have some serious thinking still to do about this. But I wish them well and would like to be in fellowship with them once they get started. Many of my headteacher colleagues feel very differently – some from personal experience of the folk involved. However, I feel a mature view would allow that the proportion of church and faith schools in MK is a lot lower than in other authorities and that this school could be a valuable addition to the opportunity for children to be educated in Christian setting.
All of this, of course, may go down the political toilet if Labour get elected in May next year.
What is actually quite pleasing about the report in the Guardian is the relative maturity in the public comments at the end of the article. The worst thing about Guardian articles is the spewing vitriol that is poured out after each political article, with no obvious editorial control in the interest of basic decency. But the comments this time are thought provoking and realistic, and form a useful counterpoint to the article.