Mixed messages as new school year begins
05 Sep 2011
So - after a summer of riots and the usual hand-wringing over exam results - the new school year in England has begun with politicians once again focusing on a minority issue: the 24 new free schools that are opening this term.
Keen to show the difference between the coalition partners, the Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy PM, Nick Clegg, is saying that he will not tolerate free schools being run for profit. It is his line in the sand on education policy. For his sake, he'd better hope it proves a more permanent line than the one he drew on university tuition fees.
In fact, there is already a rather fine distinction between a for-profit company running a free school directly and a for-profit company being engaged to manage a free school by its promoters. The former is currently not allowed, the latter is.
Discussing the riots
Meanwhile, in schools the dilemma for heads and teachers is whether or not to tackle the issue of the summer riots head-on. Should it be the topic for assemblies and citizenship/PHSE lessons? Is it as relevant in areas unaffected by the riots as in those close to the places hit by looting? I suspect most schools will feel it is something they must address, whilst feeling it is unfair to put all the onus on schools as opposed to parents.
Looking ahead more generally, this is going to be a school year more affected than most by issues of revenue and capital funding, stretched school budgets and disputes over staff pay and pensions. Compared to these issues, the couple of dozen or so free schools will seem a distraction.
Reading the top priority
And, getting down to fundamentals, the Director of the National Education Trust, Roy Blatchford, has reminded us that, above all else, this school year should be about addressing reading skills.
In a start-of-term guest article for this website, he urges all primary and secondary schools to make reading - which he describes as the 'golden key' to the rest of the curriculum - their top priority for 2011-12. Read his article here: www.mikebakereducation.co.uk/articles/88/schools-should-make-reading-skills-their-top-priority
Your own ideas on the top priorities for schools in 2011-12 are welcome. Please post them below.