Recently, Nadhim Zahawi made a U-turn on key elements of the government’s schools bill after it was criticised as a “ridiculous attempt to centralise power in Whitehall.”
The bill would have put power into the hands of the Department of Education and out of those of schools and parents. The legislation put forward suggested that the government believes it has the right to determine how a student is educated, regardless of whether the student, their teacher or their carer agrees.
This defeat, of course, is a win for liberals and for those who believe in school choice. According to The Guardian, the bill aimed to have all of England’s state schools join ‘multi-academy trusts’ by 2030 and tried to impose greater direct authority over how the trusts operate. It would destroy home schooling by making the process more bureaucratic through registration and paperwork, damaging home school communities. Even if students or their carers feel let down by the government’s education system and decide to educate their children through alternative methods, they are forced to still comply with the state’s restrictive demands.
Under the original bill, the Department of Education would have the right to set absence policies, removing the right of any parent to obtain permission from the head teacher for time off for any reason. It also states that if your child takes a day off for an appointment, the carer will have to register with their local authority. The fact that the government wants to stamp down on classroom attendance seems like a double standard after schools were locked down for months during the coronavirus pandemic.
This attempt to bureaucratise the education system will make it harder to treat students like individuals rather than another cog in the machine. Within their time in education, there are countless reasons why students may need time off which may be dismissed by the local authority who just sees them as another name and document.
I can speak personally that my experiences within education would be much worse if my situation had to be dealt with by faceless authorities rather than my teachers. During my GCSEs, I was suffering in a domestically abusive household, which I escaped by sofa surfing while taking my exams. Under the current system, gaining help and support was a simple conversation to help the teachers understand my situation. However, if the government’s original plans came through, those in similar situations would have a much more difficult and stressful time finding the support that they need.
Furthermore, the bill also intended to restrict the school’s power by providing the Department of Education control over how schools spend their money and what material will be brought on the curriculum. Not only this, but the bill allocates the right to set admission procedures. This seizure of power from the schools to government authorities takes away any freedom of choice from the school heads and governors.
It is likely that these restrictions would clamp down on school differences, making the school experience more standardised. This would limit schools’ ability to compete and improve the quality of their services. Restricting school choice and educational freedoms would result in a worse educational experience. If the government cared about improving schools, they should be pushing for more school autonomy, not less.