Thursday, 17 October 2013

I blame the parents.

As a general principle, I'm all in favour of the "free schools" idea, vouchers for education and so on. It's all experimentation and some experiments will fail, but without experimentation, you'll never find out what works and what doesn't.

A common objection or misgiving, which I share, is that the Islamists will hijack the scheme and set up taxpayer-funded madrassas. Well of course they will, these people have no shame and we now have an interesting live example of exactly this happening.

The Statists of course use this as a Killer Argument Against the whole system, i.e. throwing the Christian baby out with the Islamist bathwater.

Speaking in Parliament earlier, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said the Ofsted report was a "devastating blow to the education secretary's flagship policy".

He said: "It reveals that pupils have been failed on every possible measure and parents will want to know why the education secretary has allowed this to happen."

He described the government's free school programme as a "dangerous free-for-all".

Surely it's not too difficult to simply refuse them a licence or funding in the first place? I mean, we, the Great British taxpayers, will never all exactly agree on what constitutes a "school" and what doesn't, there are legitimate differences of opinion but only a small minority would consider that Islamist shit hole to be a "school" in any meaningful sense of the word.

But really, my final point/question is this: there is clearly demand for places at such schools, but what sort of fuckwit parent wants to send their children to a school like this in the first place? Do they hate their children that much? It's absolutely beyond me.


Lola said...

'as it 'appens (sic) I am becoming increasingly of the opinion state funding of education is a Very Bad Thing. I know the 'merit good' argument, but on being a and knowing some parents I just don't think it stacks up for the vast majority as we would happily pay to have our children eddicated. Clearly not state funding will not stop madrassas, but where state funding doesn't exist madrassas do.

paulc156 said...

There have been problems with some free schools of other faiths too. Issues about creationism being taught as an alternative explanation to evolution spring to mind. My main query with them is they tend to be the preserve of upwardly mobile professionals and are not particularly set up in areas where educational standards might be poor or where state schools are overcrowded. In which case they will just reinforce social stratification.

We know that state funding works extremely well in Finland where across the board standards are consistently amongst the highest in the world. Yet the schools are given a fair bit of autonomy in what they teach beyond a core curriculum. That would seem to offer a more inclusive model for progress than the free school route.

Mark Wadsworth said...

L, that's a legit difference of opinion. Ultimately, state funding is just a cost-spreading exercise/mass insurance.

PC, I'm not fan of Creationism, obviously, but teaching kids a bit of airy fairy jiggery pokery like that one lesson a week is not on the same scale as Islamist doctrination seven hours a day.

I mean, until a century ago, just about everybody believed the west in Creationism and it doesn't seem to have done us any harm in the long run. So I'd be prepared to tolerate a bit of Cretinism as a "legit difference of opinion".

Do you have any evidence for your assertion about "stratification" or is this just knee jerk?

If anything free schools blur the lines nicely between the top few percent who go private and the rest who have to lump it.

Remember - it only takes a couple of "middle class" people in an area to have the initiative, the rest of the parents can just tag along if they like what they see.

Lola said...

I have been asked to be a Govenor of a free school. The school will be to provide specialist education needs for difficult students. It is not in any way for the'upwardly mobile'. In my area there is a chronic shortage of this type of provision and the County Council were all for it. The head is very experienced.

The application forms from the Education Department are appalling and useless. They are designed to make it as difficult and as frustrating as possible to set up a Free School. For example the way the cashflows requirements are designed is mad (they would suit a government department only used to spending money and being able to obtain all the finance required by coercion of the taxpayer).

'Our' school was not approved as the numbers in any area are rationed and something more politically advantageous was approved instead. Despite the Local Education People being really up for it.

In truth there is a business opportunity here - if you can get the funds and if, a big if, you are prepared to fight the appalling fascist/commies/statists at the education department.

paulc156 said...

@MW. 'creationism as cretinism'...I concur with that.

One good metric which indicates whether a free school is creaming off the pupils from 'better' backgrounds is the number receiving free school meals. Examples abound of free schools having far fewer of these eligible pupils than those in the area. Presumably many of the pupils going to these 'Free Schools' might otherwise be attending private schools [as Toby Young suggests] so this is a boon to those.

"data lodged in the House of Commons library by the Department for Education reveal that 18 of the 24 free schools that opened last autumn [2011] have taken a lower proportion of children eligible for free school meals than is average for schools with pupils of the same age group across their local authority."

Mark Wadsworth said...

L, yes, the bureaucracy is a nightmare, but that does not detract from the general idea.

PC, sure, there are fewer kids on "free school meals" at "free schools" than at other schools, but so what?

By your own admission, there are still SOME of them, which is greater than ZERO, ergo children from poorer backgrounds are net beneficiaires of the system.

Plus I'm a land value taxer so I have no problem with the notion that people who pay more tax get a bit more out of the system.

What's not to like?

The Stigler said...

I don't believe it's the state's job to stop people choosing to be fuckwits. There's a certain amount of protection that I support, like having laws to make sure that blenders have safety cut-offs, but I don't believe that if you're going to stick some masking tape over the safety switch that the state should stop you.

And for the sake of a few fuckwits, I'd much rather have choice that means that the majority of reasonably intelligent people can pick a good school. And if we do this right, we end up with groups of schools. A successful school opens up another school on the other side of town, and the kids go from the crap school to the new good school.

Teaching is a lot about the labour, and running schools efficiently can't change that much, but I've seen how some heads spend money, and it's often quite badly. e.g. schools buying minibuses when it would be cheaper to rent one for the days when they need one.

paulc156 said...

@MW"PC, sure, there are fewer kids on "free school meals" at "free schools" than at other schools, but so what?"

Well since you asked in your previous post for evidence: "Do you have any evidence for your assertion about "stratification" or is this just knee jerk?" I thought you wanted some, erm... evidence?

Furthermore every free school that gets funded means that much less in the pot for the rest who aren't blessed with pushy go getter mummies and if we're going to have free schools we should at least figure out a way of getting them in areas where they can help rise standards for the majority rather than the lucky few and ensure they can't cherry pick the kids so blatantly.

After all, we don't need to go this route to get massive improvements [that we don't have any reason to think we'll get in any case]when there's a tried and tested system par excellence operating over in Finland that doesn't tick all the libertarian boxes but works for everyone, even the well off, we could just take a leaf...

Marte said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kj said...

paulc: if schools are paid by a voucher, obviously the kids of the "pushy go getter mummies and daddies" (slight smell of middle class hatred there?), are taking *their* pot with them, but they are not really taking anything from the pot of the rest are they, if there´s a per capita funding of schools? The other schools, government ones, now have less pupils to teach and should manage with a lower budget, yes?

Kj said...

And yes, finnish schools seem to have great results. And that's because they have a very good pedagogical model, which you can try to replicate in public or private schools elsewhere, I'm sure. And there's no lack of countries waiting for that to happen, copying the finnish model in public schools that is. Countless study trips, conferences and exclamations that have changed nothing so far.

Mark Wadsworth said...

PC, if there are some "free dinners" kids at "free schools" then that is not stratification.

"every free school that gets funded means that much less in the pot for the rest"

That's the clever bit - the per pupil funding at "free schools" is lower than average cost at normal state schools. Let's say £6,000 subsidy against £8,000 cost.

So for every pupil at a "free school" there is actually £2,000 more in the pot for "everybody else". Everyones a winner. Baby.
Kj, thanks for the back up.

Mark Wadsworth said...

TS, yes, agreed.

The question is, are madrassas a price worth paying? I think not, you think yes, but as neither of us would send our kids there, do we really care?

paulc156 said...

@KJ/MW On capital spending there's a straight forward case that where new free schools have been introduced against a backdrop of capital spending cuts they have effectively deprived other schools of new buildings.

paulc156 said...

"PC, if there are some "free dinners" kids at "free schools" then that is not stratification."

@MW. Really? If a school has one kid on free school meals even though located in an area that typically would have half it's kids eligible for free school meals [as does one in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets] it is an exemplar of social stratification. On the sound basis of 'if it looks like a duck etc etc...

Mark Wadsworth said...

PC, yes but if some kids are no longer attending the normal state schools and going to free schools instead, then the state school doesn't need new buildings, does it?

Of course, we have to get the balance right, but I thought that schools was one of reasons we pay tax and that all children deserve an education.

I get the impression that you think that "middle class" people should pay all the taxes but only children from deprived backgrounds deserve a decent free state education.

PS, only somebody who really hates his own children would send them to a state school in Tower Hamlets. I bet no Guardian journalist would do so voluntarily either.

The Stigler said...


You solve the problem by working out how to stop parents wanting to send their kids to madrassas.

And a lot of that is about people integrating, and that comes from people being forced (via the market) to work together.

The success of US as a melting pot is that the state didn't help Irish or German or Italian immigrants. It didn't build "community" facilities that allows them to remain within isolation. It told them to get on with it.

You've still got Little Italy and Chinatown in New York. Brick Lane is full of curry houses, but they're now about serving food to WASPs. The only population in the US that hasn't completely integrated is the black population, and that's because the state in many places deliberately oppressed or separated them.

Kj said...

Paulc: Look at it from the other side, if there were no state funding of free schools (e.g. vouchers), you´d have exactly zero "free-meals"-kids at the free schools, so there´s less social stratification even if there´s a higher amount of meal-paying students currently at free schools.
As for effects of capital spending in public schools, as MW says, free schools/private schools get less funding than state schools, it´s like that in most countries who have state funding of private schools. And capital costs are on average around 10-15% of total public school spending. So if private schools are financially responsible for their own localities, get slightly less money, and the public school system get slightly more, including a stable budget for capital spending, I don´t really see the problem.

paulc156 said...

"PC, yes but if some kids are no longer attending the normal state schools and going to free schools instead, then the state school doesn't need new buildings, does it?"

That can't be right. Schools still need new buildings. Say a school with a thousand pupils loses ten percent of its fresh intake when an alternative Free School opens around the corner. It's intake may only be around 150 per annum. Even losing a third of that won't make diddly squats difference to that schools need for a new gymnasium/sports hall/swimming pool/dining rooms/roof on any of the above/car park-playground surfaces etc.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Free Schools can be set up anywhere regardless of the number of pupils or magnitude of teacher pupil ratios. So allowing/encouraging Free Schools to set up in areas where there is already spare capacity contributing to the dilapidation of existing school buildings as numbers decrease in the state schools affected.

PS. "So for every pupil at a "free school" there is actually £2,000 more in the pot for "everybody else". Everyones a winner. Baby."

This disregards that £60 million has been spent on Free Schools in addition to any ongoing funding merely to get them 'up to speed' [equipment/books etc] and quite separate from any capital outlays on refurbishments or building costs in Free Schools. Hundreds of thousands also spent preparing Free Schools that didn't eventually go ahead.

Your figure of £8000 per pupil in the state sector: As of 2009/10 "secondaries tend to fall between £4,000 and £9,000, primaries between £3,000 and £8,000" per pupil.[According to The BBC News website]. The West London Free School, received well over £12,ooo per pupil in its first year.

Mark Wadsworth said...

Paul, you had me worried for a minute there, then I realised you said £60 million, which is bugger all out of an education budget of £60+ BILLION.

According to Wiki, WLFS has 360 pupils.

According to the school's accounts, it received £1.5 million from the government.

£0.5 million was up front capital costs, so in reality, they spent £1 million of it. It does not own its own premises (rents? Rent free?)

I then divide £1 million by 360 to arrive at the princely sum of £2,777 per pupil per year.

So like I said, they cost the taxpayer less than state schools - and rightly so!

If Gove goes mad and starts giving them more, then that is clearly an incorrect use of taxpayers' money.

But he doesn't, it is indeed exactly like I said, end of discussion.

paulc156 said...

It 'has' 360 pupils. It 'had' £1.5 million.

Mark Wadsworth said...

PC, yes, maybe they'll get much more money next year. That is quite possible.

But rather than quoting vague figures from the BBC or The Guardian, can we at least agree that we will look at actual individual figures for one school on a consistent basis?

paulc156 said...

MW.You're the accountant and I can't make head nor tail of those accounts so I'll just take your word for it. In the interests of balance though, you did gloss over the fact that funding for build/refurb of existing schools has been adversely affected:

"PC, yes but if some kids are no longer attending the normal state schools and going to free schools instead, then the state school doesn't need new buildings, does it?"

The answer is obviously yes. It's not a simple matter of one less classroom and teacher means the school needs less money for the rest of the school building.

You've said a few times that Free Schools getlower per pupil support than state schools. Even the Dept of Edu's own website doesn't claim this.

"The core principle is that Free Schools are funded on the basis of equivalence with the funding of maintained schools and Academies in the same local authority area."