There are some interesting facts in a recent YouGov poll about how the average voter in this country currently considers the ability of those in the top jobs of each political party. For instance, after making every imaginable mistake, including a disastrous budget for 2012, George Osborne still polls higher than Ed Balls as to who would make the best chancellor. It makes us wonder what would have happened if Ed had been at the Olympics instead of Mr Osborne. We assume he might have had a similar reception.
(Whilst it’s difficult to forget the negative impact of Balls’s tenure as Secretary of State for Education, his predictions on the economy have been markedly accurate since becoming Shadow Chancellor, and his concerns about austerity are considerable.)
There’s also an issue that whilst Labour have an 11% lead over the Conservatives, there is very little difference in the voters’ opinions about the ability of their leaders, and whether either of the parties know in which direction they are going (page 5). This has to be slightly alarming for Ed Miliband, especially as he seems to be less popular than the Prime Minister.
Time will tell of course, and with the Labour party policy review well under way, there could be a significant shift once people are absolutely clear about what is going to be in their 2015 manifesto.
As for Mr Gove, well unsurprisingly he’s extremely unpopular. 22% think he is doing a good job whilst a whopping 47% think he is performing badly (page 11). Obviously not all the people who were polled know everything or anything about education: 31% didn’t know whether he was doing a good or bad job, which would suggest that at least 31% of them had nothing to do with education. Do this poll again with teachers, education academics and many parents , and you might get a significantly different poll. Do it in Croydon, just outside Roke Primary school – one of the schools that Mr Gove insisted should become an academy as Lord Harris required – and you would be hard pushed to find a single person who believed that Gove was doing a decent job.
All such polls are only be indications and not absolutes, yet they do provide a taste of what the electorate is thinking, and the responses on page 12 should be considered by all policy makers regarding the governance of schools.
People are clearly concerned about free schools. Should Labour be elected to power in 2015, they have to think now about what they are going to do about these schools, and there are two issues that are quite apparent in these figures.
Firstly, there doesn’t seem to be support for such schools. 17% might be interested in supporting a free school in their local area but 61% wouldn’t consider it. (Please note that this is a significantly different question than whether they support the policy of free schools. The question was about whether the respondent would be interested in setting up and /or running such a school). However, this does show peoples’ concern or disinterest in free schools.
Secondly, and possibly more significant, are the responses to the next question – “If you had children who were approaching school age, where would you rather send them?”
27% would want to send them to local authority run schools, 10% would want them educated at free schools, whilst 53% would “decide based on the schools, not who ran them”. 10% therefore made no comment.
Obviously, if you add 53 and 27, you potentially get 80% of the electorate who wouldn’t choose to send their child to a free school because of its status/governance, though some might send them there based on their view of the school. Is it possible that the voters realise that these schools are divisive, unfair and have the potential to polarise communities and create further inequality, and that this is understood by the electorate as a bad thing? In the news this week, it was evident that the largest amount of applications for free schools came from the London area, where according to Ofsted there have been the most significant improvements in “standards”, thereby placing Mr Gove in a very difficult situation of wanting more free schools but not being able to justify them in places where his own “independent” inspectors have deemed state schools to be significantly improving.
27% is a minority number, yet when one considers the attack on local authorities and the reduced level of spending available to councils for education, 27% becomes more significant.
As we have said in previous posts, we have some issues with local authority governance, but if their role is genuinely supportive, rather than being directed by national government and Ofsted’s restricted view of education, then they are extremely viable. If they facilitate cooperation and coordination between clusters of schools, some of whom find commissioning services difficult due to being unfeasibly small in a market economy with a climate of austerity, then they are a favourable option. If local authorities recognise that it’s schools that are the ultimate governors and the places where the money is rightly devolved, and the local council officers can advise, guide, act as a critical friend, identify prospective school managers and share the excellent teachers they see as they travel from place to place, then they would be welcomed by schools with open arms.
Local authority co-ordination is an option, and an option that should ensure the sharing of good pedagogy, the facilitation of joint planning and learning and the equal sharing of the resources that the council has to offer with regard to health promotion, social care and early intervention programmes to name but a few.
However, the most significant figure from this is that 53% would decide on their choice of schools based on their knowledge and understanding of their local schools. And guess what? Most parents don’t choose a school for their children solely based on the most recent Ofsted report. They choose it based on peer feedback, on visiting the schools for themselves and getting a sense of the atmosphere within a school. They consider the values of the school and even more, they look at the children within a school to see if they look happy. That is the chief deciding factor for most parents.
Policy makers are forever concerned about who is in charge of a school. There’s talk of cooperatives, there’s federations, academies, free schools, independent schools, special schools, faith schools. Of course it’s significant who is running a school but it doesn’t appear to be as significant as what the school is all about, what its values are and how it engages children in learning and how the school enables children to be children. That is what parents are looking for; a fruitful and pleasant place to be – and yes, this is largely determined by the people who run the school day to day, and not by its title of free school or local authority led school.
Schools are so individual. You can have two schools within 200 yards of one another that largely have the same socio/economic/cultural intake but can be astoundingly different. Obviously, this is one thing that aggravates Messrs’ Gove and Wilshaw who would like to see the individuality stamped out of all schools with conformity ruling the roost, but with a guiding support from fellow educators through effective clustering, through a supportive and dedicated critical friend of a local authority, then these schools can retain their individuality whilst also offering an education that provides high “standards” whilst still enabling choice for parents.
Fiona Millar, writer on education and campaigner for local schools, has long advocated the need to support the improvement of local schools. This 53% of people in the YouGov poll who don’t care about who controls a school bears out her claim that the most important issue is the local school itself. People don’t see education as one conglomerate block. They see the school at the end of their street, potentially the hub of their community, and decide on where to send their children based on that. Policy makers should do well to consider this. They spend far too long concentrating time, money and energy on the governance of school rather than the pedagogy and values within the school. They look at attainment rather than achievement as the indicators of success. They don’t always listen to the electorate and the “consumers” as to what they want from a school.
This poll doesn’t explain everything but it does give a small indication as to why people choose certain schools, and in the main, it appears that whether a school is an academy, a free school or a local authority school is not the main factor in their choice.
If you found this post interesting and informative, and if you have a Twitter (etc) account, please click on the button below to share it with others.