Friday, January 11, 2008

Nick Clegg - Spoiling for a fight?

One of the problems of taking a day off to prepare food for Yas's party that the temptation is to be distracted. Today's temptation arrived courtesy of James Graham. His suggestion that Nick Clegg is spoiling for a fight with the activists, deserves some closer analysis.

Let me be clear, I may have been one of Nick's more vocal supporters, but that doesn't mean that a) I will keep my mouth shut if I think he is picking a fight b) Keep my mouth shut if I disagree with any of his policy positions. So, as you can imagine, I was somewhat exercised by James' piece. But I am at a loss to find evidence for James' assertions. Firstly that "Nick Clegg had a chance to spell out his vision for public service reform during his leadership election campaign; he bottled it." James, did you miss his speech to the SMF? I quote:

"What does this shift – from a top-down to a bottom up approach – mean in education?
It means offering parents more options – ending the state’s near monopoly in the provision of free education and allowing new providers to enter the system and new schools to open.

But for this to happen, two conditions must be in place. The first is that all schools be brought under local democratic oversight. The second – that there should be no further moves towards selection.

And as we liberalise the supply side, so we will have to transform the role of Local Education Authorities – getting them focused on meeting, rather than managing, demand; and on extending, rather than resisting, diversity.

Can’t get the schooling you need round the corner? No problem, your LEA will help you find a good school somewhere else.

Can’t reach that school? Don’t worry, your LEA will provide transport to get you there.
Can’t get a place in a good school anywhere within traveling distance? Fine. Your LEA will help you start up a new school or encourage others to do so."

Now, firstly, he makes it clear he wants local democratic control. Secondly he wants parents to have more of a say and thirdly he wants more diversity. On the first point I am with him, On the second and third I want to know a lot more about what parental control and that "diversity" looks like, I have a feeling it may be an area of conflict for me personally. If he wants to push that point and have the debate in the party that would be a good thing. I think choice is often a case of King's New Clothes. For someone to get their first choice means someone else doesn't. Actually my contention is that people are far more interested in accessibility and quality than choice. There is also an important community dimension, do I really want to bus my child miles across a city to get to a "good" school, or worse, away from my closest school which is "good" to a "poor" school because there was no space left. Lets be really radical and risky and say we are aiming for every school to be a good school!

On the "spinning" about bloody minded activists, I can't see that this is more than an attempt by a journalist to "sex-up" the story. We know only too well that the only tale in town is when there is conflict. A couple of the reasons I was happy to back Nick, despite knowing I would probably end up on the opposite side of some of the public service debates, were his honesty and ability to listen. Everything I know about him flies in the face of the image of a man who is deliberately picking a fight. James, you may prove me wrong, but at the moment I am relying on the evidence to hand, not the lazy journalism of a hack!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for digging out these quotes, Linda. As an education lead I'm left spinning by all this spinning.

You raise the question of parental say. There's a lot of rhetoric about "parents" opening new schools and we know in most cases that won't happen. Changing the law to allow this may be useful but it won't lead to an education revolution.

However a little noticed and invidious aspect of the Academy programme has been the removal of elected parent governors and their replacement with appointees. ITSM that's back to the bad old days where the head fixed parent governor elections to get their tame favourites on the GB. If Nick and David Laws show some understanding of what's actually happening and a proper liberal critique of government policy, I will be more comfortable.