Education a political football - again

SO ONCE again education – and specifically schools' management – is back at the top of the political agenda after the prime minister made a speech about "freeing up" schools.

SO ONCE again education - and specifically schools' management - is back at the top of the political agenda after the prime minister made a speech about "freeing up" schools.

What he was talking about was making them "independent" of local authority control - as if that's good news for them.

I've never bought that argument in the past - and I don't buy it now.

Schools can only be independent if the parents of pupils have to pay a fee - otherwise their money has to come from either local or national government.

It's all very well to say you're freeing up headteachers or governing bodies from local authority control - but the fact is if the money doesn't come from county hall it will come from Whitehall.

And ultimately he who pays the piper calls the tune - meaning that will leave the ultimate boss of schools will be a minister in London rather than a councillor in Ipswich.

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There's also the question of support services.

Large high schools can be self-contained, with their own cafés and specialist staff.

But what about small primary schools with a teaching head and a couple of other teachers?

They can't possibly provide every service the school needs - and if they don't come under the umbrella of the local education authority they will have to negotiate with outside agencies to provide them.

And by definition a teaching head - which you find in most schools with fewer than four classes - needs to spend most, if not all, his or her time in the classroom and hasn't got time to worry about buying in services like school meals, teaching support etc.

Abolishing local control of education makes no sense - unless you are a control-freak government desperate to take back local authorities' powers.

And that seems to be the case of governments of whatever political persuassion. The Conservatives invited schools to "opt out" of local authorities and become grant-maintained schools.

At the time, of course, most local authorities were run by Labour or Liberal Democrat administrations.

Labour abolished them - but it seems that the prime minister has now decided that local authorities cannot be trusted to run schools.

Could this possibly be because most local education authorities are now run by Conservative or Liberal Democrat administrations?

I simply don't trust any politician who says the government wants to give more power to the people on the ground. He or she is really trying to take more power to the centre - to neuter any alternative power-base.

SUFFOLK County Council displayed supreme pragmatism this week, by reprieving the youth card which has proved such a hit with youngsters since it was introduced earlier this year.

I can understand the new administration being cautious about the cost of the card - but if they had used the excuse of the legal row over its name to scrap it, that would have been a tremendous own-goal.

The card is liked by youngsters - and renaming it won't change that - and shows them that the county is relevant to them as well as their parents.

Whether the Syc Card is really the best name for it, I don't know - I'm told that the name is likely to appeal more to the youngsters themselves than it will to their parents!