Market Forces and Education in Manchester

cities@manchester are organising a public panel debate on Tuesday 13 March, 6pm at the Anthony Burgess Foundation on ‘Using Market Forces to improve Education in Manchester: Possibilities and Challenges’. The event is free (but please book your place here) and will be followed by a drinks reception.

Education revolution or recipe for disaster?

The 2010 Academies Bill was launched with much talk of the Coalition Government’s hopes for an ‘education revolution’.  One argument in favour is that independent state schools (i.e. academies and free schools) can raise overall standards and inject new energy by creating a more competitive education ‘market-place’. There are, however, fears that this approach will further fragment the state education system and compound the disadvantage faced by children and young people from poorer backgrounds.

How have the changes played out in Manchester? What does the academic evidence say about the claims, both positive and negative? What are the options for working within this system? Our panellists – all of whom work in the field of education – will give us their perspectives on these issues on Tuesday. A short preview is given below.

Aneez Esmail (Chair of Governors, Chorlton High)

Chorlton High is currently in a consultation with parents and staff about becoming a converter Academy. Aneez will talk about the issues that the school faced in coming to a decision to consult and the concerns amongst parents and staff about the marketisation of the education system. Chorlton High School is successful because it is a comprehensive school and he will talk about the impact on the school of recent market reforms and how these have impacted on the schools ability to maintain its comprehensive ethos.

Helen Gunter (School of Education, University of Manchester)

There is a game that both children and adults play where one person puts a word on a piece of paper, and then folds it over, and passes it on. At the end of the circulation the paper is unfolded and read out. The disjuncture between the words can be simultaneously creative and ridiculous, and so the game is actually called “Exquisite Corpse” because the first time it was played the sentence that emerged was “The exquisite corpse drinks the new wine”. I wonder if we played this on Tuesday evening and began with ‘urban education’ what the outcome might be? Would we have a sentence that necessarily led to academies and free schools, what other words might we include and what imaginings and descriptions might we create in our discussions?

It seems to me in following the debates about the Academies Programme that the claims made often make as little sense as the exquisite corpse. There was no evidence in 2000 for this major change to the provision of public services, there is still no evidence in 2012 to support any continued investment in this provision. While ‘working in the interests of children’ is often used to justify the modernisation of eduction, I will make the case that the privatisation of education is not in the interests of children, but it is in the interests of those who are seeking to move to for profit services.

Stuart Leeming (New Islington Academy and Deputy High Master, Manchester Grammar)

Is the misunderstood child coming of age? Two years ago, the first applications to open Free Schools were submitted to DfE amidst much suspicion, avid scrutiny and sensationalist publicity. Everyone ‘knew’ that free schools are the province of the lunatic fringe; if you want to open a school in the attic teaching your pet dogma, that’s how you do it. Local authorities were hostile and pundits were convinced the concept wouldn’t work. What a difference twenty-four months makes!

Free Schools are the ultimate demand driven institutions; if you can’t demonstrate demand for a school that relates to real children, you can’t open a Free School. If you can demonstrate that demand, then anyone with the drive and determination has the opportunity to bid to open a school funded by the DfE.

New Islington Free School in Manchester is the progeny of an alliance between the visionary developer, Urban Splash; the education pedigree of the Manchester Grammar School; the foresight and pragmatism of Manchester City council and the commitment and support of the Homes and Communities Agency. Together, this group comprise New Islington Free School, a company limited by guarantee that is hoping to establish and run an exciting new school in the heart of the city.

Kieran McDermott (CEO, One Education)

The Academy Act and the 2012 Education Act are statutory evidence of a changed relationship. The Government’s aim is that within the lifetime of the current Parliament every school in England will be an Academy. Nearly half of all secondary schools have converted already or are in process to do so. While it remains to be seen whether this target will be achieved, all schools, regardless of their funding status, are now responsible for their own continuous improvement and have increasing autonomy and control of budgets and resources. The post code lottery model of local authority services has been found wanting and schools routinely exercise choice in sourcing services from a wide range of providers.

The market for school improvement is long standing but has becoming increasingly competitive and complex with national and multi-national organisations competing for business. One Education was established to meet the challenge faced by schools as local authorities faced with significant financial challenge are reducing traditional services or pulling out of supporting schools altogether. One Education is an ethical, commercially viable, school support company. We push hard to innovate in everything we do, reduce costs wherever we can and make a real difference to the schools and academies we serve. We know that every penny a school spends must make a difference.

Academy chains are growing rapidly across local authority boundaries and many have already acquired national profiles. The question is regularly asked; whose schools are they? The argument has been won about giving school leaders freedom from the “dead hand of bureaucracy”, but few are advocating that schools should be unaccountable to the communities they serve. But as this new and diverse education ecology emerges, all of us involved in education will need to be more open to new ways of working, new partnerships and new accountabilities, if we really want to create the kind of education system that a fulfilled and successful future for our children demands.

Julie Thorpe (Co-operative College)

Co-operation – an idea which spread widely as basis for economic and social organisation in the nineteeth century – is back in fashion. Providing a tried and tested model, it offers a response to the vacuum which has arisen since the financial crisis called into question free-market economics approches to the provision of goods and services, and the consequent structures of our towns and cities. Not only the ‘flavour of the month’ in policy circles, there is also a growing body of scientific study suggesting that it might be our best bet for a sustainable future. Education has always been a key principle of the co-operative movement and we are currently experiencing an explosion of new co-operative approaches within the mainstream school system.

The debate will be chaired by Gillian Evans (University of Manchester)

For full details of this and other cities@manchester Urban Forums please see our website.

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