Tuesday, 26 April 2011

AV: A Tactical Question for England ?

I'm in the 'Oh alright then, if that's the only thing on offer' camp on AV.

That's simply because, on balance, I think it is just a tinsey bit more sensible that FPTP. But proportional and fair it sure ain't. Not that any electoral system can necessarily guarantee those aims: you pick a electoral system to fit the underlying political sociology in my view, not to change it. Therefore a system which allows (it doesn't guarantee this of course) the two major parties to be cut down to something closer to their declining linkages to the political outlook(s) of the mass of us is probably preferable. That's as far I as tend to think about it before giving up with a yawn.

Up to now, I've been a bit dismissive of folk who think about this choice in purely tactical terms. I distrust those who tell me they'll be voting this way or that because of some predicted short term political effect. In general, I simply don't think people - even practiced spinners from the no-longer-smoke-filled backrooms - can predict that sort of thing. Life is just too messy. But this poll has concentrated my thoughts: it appears that pro independence parties - the SNP and Scottish Greens - may, for the first time, win a majority in Holyrood.

Now, this might not happen of course. & even if it does it's a long way from Salmond having a majority in his parliament to him actually wining a referendum on Scottish Independence. But it does focus the leftwing English mind on how FPTP elections might be expected to go in the future without the Caledonian contribution. We'd be looking at more or less permanent Tory government.

So I've changed my view. There is a tactical question involved here, but it's not about giving Cameron or Clegg a black eye, or encouraging the 'left' LibDems to jump ship or whatever. It's about an insurance policy against the possible day when the Scots leave us.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Nakedness of Class and the Classroom

I thought I had given up blogging, but some things make you so angry you just have to write something down. Who is to blame for my return to my pointless habit of hurling typo strewn invective into the ether? Step forward Mr.Toby Young and his West London Free School idea.

Everyone needs to be clear what's happening here, so a little background. There is a 'zeitgeist-y' feeling across all welfare services that the old 'top down' professionally defined models of service delivery are falling short. Hence a lot of emphasis on the 'personalisation' of Health and Social Care and of general out rolling of models of greater user and consumer involvement across the piece. Education is not immune to these developments - and nor should it be. Parent controlled schools fit nicely into this zeitgeist, and shouldn't be opposed at all at the level of basic principle.

However, the question of what any school should control, never mind who should control the school, is a bit more complicated. Here we hit that Great British Wall of Silence About the Most Obvious Thing In the World: how class works in an mundane, everyday sense.

The question of school governance, in the abstract, is one that would send most people to sleep. No one chooses a school because it is a Community School, or a Foundation or a Voluntary Aided School or whatever: they choose on the grounds of the curriculum offer, the results and the ethos of the school.

Well, I say 'they choose', but often this isn't the case: the school effectively chooses them through its admissions criteria. Remember, we still have over 150 Grammar Schools in this country, never mind the Church schools, or the way almost any admissions policy can be adopted to manipulate the intake (e.g. there is a vast difference between having a 'distance from school gates' entry criteria depending on where a school is: in a leafy suburb, surrounded by expensive streets, it is selective; if the school is in the middle of a Council Estate you've got a Secondary Modern in the making).

It is for this sort of reason that some of us feel that no school should control its own entry criteria - there has to be an outside body which coordinates entry criteria to prevent unfairness creeping into the system. Traditionally, this has been the local authority. You don't necessarily have to think the LA should run schools, or not all schools anyway, to believe it should carry out this coordinating function. It is perfectly possible to imagine parent controlled schools which exist within such a regime.

But there is another way in which Tony Young and co appear to have found to flout the aim of achieving some sort of rough level playing field: rather than (just) fix the entry criteria - though they have done that as well- they've fixed the actual curriculum offer so it doesn't fit a huge segment of the children who might potentially attend. This is not choice: it is the active and knowing restriction of choice. & it's all about class.

I think more consumer power over welfare services is a good thing - but I don't think that can just be taken as meaning 'let the sharp elbows of the middle classes get their kids to the front of the queue and devil take the hindmost'. I'd be an enthusiastic supporter of any school run by parents - 'the consumer voice' - which had a genuinely comprehensive entry criteria and a genuinely comprehensive curriculum offer.

But what West London Free School is proposing is essentially a way of stealing resources from working class kids for selfish reasons. It's disgraceful.