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Wednesday 22 May 2013

More Very Expensive Free Schools

So there are to be more free schools – free, that is, of local authority control, which is touted by Education Secretary Michael “Oiky” Gove as A Very Wonderful Thing, although the idea is not universally popular. Some are almost rapturously in favour of the concept, not least the loathsome Toby Young, who is more than happy to impose Proper Uniforms and Latin upon the offspring of suitably pushy parents.

And why is Latin taken as some kind of yardstick of how good a school is? This is, and I do have some experience of Latin lessons, thanks, one of those great mysteries. So Latin influenced many other languages? That’s a pretty thin excuse, unless all those other languages are similarly structured, which they are not. It would be good to see whether learning Latin has any effect on learning other languages.

My feeling is that it would make next to no difference. In any case, what is nowadays taught as Latin is some idealised language which may bear some relation to what was spoken in part of the Roman world at some point in its history – but equally may be a poor stab in the dark. What is not in doubt is that the language is not spoken in any part of the world, bar that of those who wish to perpetuate its teaching.

If, therefore, free schools, like Tobes’ West London Free School, claim Latin as some kind of foundation stone of their learning edifice, then I have to conclude that the whole shebang will have as much integrity as a dodgy Bangladeshi factory. And the cost of all these free schools also concerns me, if only because it is plainly obvious that the money being spent on them has to come from somewhere.

In these straitened times, if the education budget is not expanding, but free schools are being bunged a nine figure sum to get more of them up and running, it is rather obvious that existing schools are going to get less. This is manifesting itself in a number of ways: expanding class sizes, more pressures on staff, and having to resort to accommodating classes in portakabins.

But Tobes is more than equal to such criticisms: he just repeats his mantra that Free Schools are Very Wonderful, then tells readers to “look over there” as he sneers at Christine Blower of the NUT for not using a form of words that meets with his approval (she called 45% a “majority, which she clearly intends to be interpreted as “largest number”, rather than “absolute majority”).

It is instructive that, as the education debate continues to rage, Gove’s biggest fans are reduced to picking at grammar and interpretation, rather than being bothered to engage with their critics (Young has previously called people “illiterate” because he does not approve of the number of commas they use, for instance). What would be more useful is to know whether this exercise really is worth the candle.

By the time we find that out, of course, Gove and Tobes will be away with the loot.

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