There’s a north London primary school, apparently, which is being forced by the Department of Education to convert to academy status against the will of parents and teachers, despite its local popularity as it stands. In the grand scheme of Michael Gove’s new order, local popularity is not enough.
The more I think about this – an apparently-failing though popular school forced to accept an overhauling of its management structure – the less straight-forward it appears. The story is ripe for a myriad political not to mention prejudiced interpretations. Entrenched local-lefties defending the culture of failure and victimhood from which they draw their only support? Right-wing central-government, or should that be corporate, planning imposed insensitively on vulnerable local communities? Which local communities? The handful of middle-class parents rather selectively quoted in this report? Or the silent, probably foreign-language speaking majority, who would, if asked, perhaps welcome a more robust management regime?
At our small primary school, which this north London school resembles, at least in terms of intake, virtually every child could have won a place in at least one of three other top-performing primaries close by. There’s nothing failing about our school, but its competitors are truly establishments after Minister Gove’s heart; independent (foundation, academy or church), academically focussed and disciplined.
However, we preferred, the handful of chattering-class parents at the school gate agree, this local-authority community school for its friendlier, more laidback approach. We like the fact that our kids get, perhaps less phonics (they get enough), but lots of free playtime, music and drama. We like the early language lessons, the messy play, the improvised productions. We don’t want them drilled senseless on the three Rs just for the sake of outstanding SAT scores, and we want to be forgiven for sending them to school with mismatching socks now and again. They are primary school children! School should be fun! And, truth be told, we know perfectly well that our kids will be among the school’s thoroughly respectably-sized group of top achievers anyway. (& if they’re not, there are always private tutors.)
This is the bit that makes me feel uneasy. It leads me to the worrying suspicion that we white-middle-class (WMC) parents are part of Michael Gove’s unconscious or deliberate drive to accomplish the polar opposite of integration; to use existing social divisions to segregate further. Increasingly, WMC parents in London who opt for state schooling at all move to all-white areas, which will increasingly be serviced by “educating the whole child” primaries a bit like ours and the school outlined above; in other words, with plenty of trimmings (and laxer uniform policy). The remaining schools (in areas where any white children go private) will be quasi-army-inspired institutions catering for and appealing to local Bible- or Koran-thumpers, and others of the respectable poor drawn to or at least not put off by a culture of traditional authoritarianism for their unacceptably unruly children. And count on it, they will get the results, these schools, in the only way which really works!
It’s just a thought. But the increasing ethnic and social conformity of London state schools at primary and secondary level seems to confirm it. Genuinely mixed ones look in danger of disappearing entirely.
(see update here)