Power of Church blocks progress – St. Mary’s Crosby

www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-merseyside-27406738

I must admit to being sad but not necessarily surprised by this turn of events. The BBC web site has the story.

Not having a religion means I may be accused of being biased but I genuinely felt that the Free School move by St. Mary’s was right and progressive. Sadly, progressive seems not to be on the agenda of the religious leaders who have the final say.

Free Schools – My visit to The Hawthorne’s in Bootle

I have posted before about why Liberals are in favour of Free Schools and as we have one (a high school) on our doorstep in Bootle which was established not so long ago I thought it was time to find out more about it.

An e-mail to the School and the visit was fixed up for yesterday. This was what I found and my views on the School.

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Firstly the School was very clean and tidy, both outside and in. The welcome was very friendly and the soothing classical music played in the reception area was a delight.

I was introduced to head Teacher Lynne Wise and we had a detailed chat about how the School came to be set up and the challenges of that process.

The formation of this Free School came after Sefton Council had announced that it was closing two High Schools in Bootle. In effect parents decided to make a stand to try to help bring high quality education to a community with significant deprivation issues.

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No one should underestimate the determination of the parents and the personal risks they ran in trying to set up this School and let’s face it they did it in the face of at best disinterest from Bootle Labour and at worst downright opposition.

But the aim of the project is very simple – quality education. You can’t fault that aim no matter where you stand on the political spectrum in my view. We all want the best education for our children and the parents who set up The Hawthorne’s certainly went the extra mile to try to deliver it.

However, the struggle is far from over as the School needs to attract more young people to it as the education destination of choice. And this will not be an easy task as for many years now a fair chunk of Bootle parents have been sending their youngsters to high schools in Maghull and Crosby as they have sought a choice in education that they have felt has not been available to them in Bootle.

I must admit that having visited the School, spoken to its Head Teacher and walked around the classes listening to the lessons I am impressed with what the School is trying to do. Of course, OFSTED are the ones who need to be impressed and they are very hard to please indeed these days. Witness St Andrews C of E Primary in Maghull as a recent example of how tough OFSTED inspections are these days. Fortunately, St. Andrews came out stronger, but it was tough.

So a tough fight is still there for The Hawthorne’s but it would be nice if the Bootle councillors could get behind the School to make sure it is a success. They may well think that all education should be provided by the state (the School is state funded, I might add) and that the local authority should control every aspect of it on behalf of Government but the world is changing in case they have not noticed. Why even their own Labour Party says it is in favour of Free Schools now.

If schools like this can’t thrive it will be setting back educational choice and attainment in a deprived community and that’s hardly going to give Bootle youngsters a better start in life.

www.thehawthornesfreeschool.co.uk/

Free Schools – A great idea but they do need qualified teachers!

Free schools are a very Liberal idea; no one should have a monopoly in providing education, including the state and local authorities, but it should always be of a high standard.

We Lib Dems welcomed the opening of Hawthorne’s Free (High) School in Bootle because it offers a real opportunity to turn around the increasing numbers of families who are sending their youngsters out of Bootle each day to high schools in Maghull and Crosby. We wish the School well, whilst realising they have taken on a monumental task which by and large Labour has ignored and certainly hope will go away as soon as possible.

But what about the fuss over the free school in Derby which has hit the buffers due to Ofsted saying it is failing in every way? Of course that is unacceptable, of course it has to shape up or be closed down. Yet Tories oppose seemingly any form of regulation of Free Schools, I assume this is on the basis that market forces will decide whether it sinks or swims. This is falsehood though because whilst a school fails its children are being let down and they don’t have another childhood to make up for one that an education system has failed.

It is because of such concerns that Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg has called for changes and some necessary regulation. For my part I can’t see how a school can work effectively without qualified teachers and whilst I am not sold on the rigid (tractor factory) National Curriculum there does have to be a clear standard for education wherever it is delivered.

Personally, I would not have the Government fund Free Schools that are set up for religious purposes. But then again I don’t think it is the job of the state to teach religion at all. Surely, taking on board a religion should be a decision of the individual not something predetermined by a decision of your family?

But back to Free Schools, they are a good thing and can be a force for change and excellence in education but they can’t just take money from the Government and pretty much do with as they wish! The Derby experience should not be a call to close all Free Schools as some in the Labour Party seem to think it. Then again where do Labour stand on Free Schools? Utterly opposed? Well they used to be. Supporting them? Well that was their surprising recent announcement pre-Derby. Moving back to opposing them? Well their utterances post-Derby would lead you to think they are doing another U turn!

The objective is quality education and Free Schools can deliver that but regulation of them must be brought in so to stop a minority of them damaging the education of our young people. I wonder what Labour’s policy on them will be next week?