PROFESSOR BARBERS EDUCATION PHILOSOPHY
Broadly supports Goves approach on schools reform
Labour Policy on Free Schools hard to understand
Professor Michael Barber who has just moved to Pearson Education from McKinsey (where he set up a US Education Delivery Unit) told Peter Wilby in a Guardian interview recently that he broadly supports Goves devolved approach to schools. He said “Broadly, Gove’s doing the right thing,” he says, “particularly the theme of devolution, encouraging schools to take control of their own destiny.” He also claimed that it is possible to support both the dirigiste New Labour approach and the more libertarian Tory attitude. “If you’re moving from poor to fair, as we’re doing with Pakistan’s schools and as we did with some failing schools in England, that’s one set of techniques. If you’re moving from good to great, that’s a different set. When you’re improving a bad system or bad schools, you need to be really clear: here’s what you teach, here’s the lesson plans, here’s the training. But when a system gets really good, you need to be significantly less prescriptive.” Reflecting on the literacy and numeracy strategies, he says it was a mistake to underestimate their negative effect on teachers. “I thought being enabled to do their jobs better and see children in their classes doing better would have a transformative effect. I thought teachers would say: that’s great.” (Not quite what he said by the way in his book Instruction to Deliver) It has been widely believed that Barber was approached by Gove to take over as Permanent Secretary at the DfE just before Christmas because of concerns that the Department was not sufficiently keen to drive through his education reforms. This interview confirms that this was the case. But Barber declined the offer. (its not terribly easy to simply offload a Permanent Secretary) Professor Barber joins Blairites Conor Ryan, Andrew Adonis, and Barry Sheerman MP, in giving qualified backing to Goves school reforms. As for former Prime Minister Tony Blair, what does he have to say about the reforms? He told the Sun “I think some of the technical aspects of reform – competition in the NHS, putting the patient first, breaking up the traditional state school system in favour of academies and trust schools – these were things we started.”
What about Andy Burnham? Well, he agrees that autonomous schools are a good thing ,in principle at least, and approves of Peter Hymans ( another Labour man) Newham Free School bid but his support in hardly unqualified. He worries that not enough are starting in the most disadvantaged areas and some may be damaging other local schools, but he hasn’t committed his party to getting rid of them should they win power.
Iain Wright, a Shadow Junior Education Minister, told the BBC that Labours national policy is against Free schools, while also refusing, like Burnham, to commit to their abolition. He seemed to suggest to Andrew Neil that the party has a ‘ pragmatic’ approach and so will judge each one on their merits ie whether they suit local circumstances. Labour is clearly struggling at the moment with its Free schools policy, keen not to alienate Labour supporting parents who rather like the idea of Free schools . How can you be against them nationally but for them locally? Answers on a post card please.