Sunday, 27 October 2013

'Free' Schools

I learned a long time ago to trust my own judgement and instincts and this has been at odds with the system I have found myself in over the recent past. In fact, over the last year, one of the things I have increasingly noticed about schools is how conditioned teachers can be. I don't know about others, but I resent operating within a straight-jacketed learning environment. So, last week, when I was offered another role at another school outside the state system, I confess to some sense of relief. It remains to be seen how much there will be an attempt to quash individuality, but having worked in three continents in many schools delivering different curricula, I think it is fair to say that I am able to pick and choose with some sense of informed accuracy and experience.

The demand for alternative types of schooling indicates how many of us believe that there are many forms of education that offer a much wider (or specific) set of experiences for acquiring skills and knowledge. Within this broad range, in schools that do not operate under direct state or local authority control (such as free schools, academies, home-schooling, independent schools etc.), a 'teacher' may not have a state-issued certificate or teaching license.

How important is this? In short, a teacher is someone who inspires, motivates, cares, and is willing to impart their skills and knowledge. By virtue, anyone who does this, from parent, to a highly-skilled artist, to a classroom practitioner or a colleague, is a teacher. It is not necessarily someone who has spent hours studying at an institution being trained in pedagogy and educational ideology. In fact this process of training may institutionalise them and narrow them as teachers by removing their openness and passion.

It is rather surprising then that the Deputy PM, Nick Clegg should have spoken this week about ensuring that all teachers in free schools needing to be 'qualified' (i.e.'certified'). Do we mean ideologically programmed to lack an alternative view? This too, from a man who was educated privately (that is, outside the state system) where there are more creative educational freedoms? It all sounds rather hypocritical, both for him to speak and for him to expect. I speak as a 'certified'/'qualified' teacher (UK/EU) who is passionate about the rights of educators for sound pay and conditions where clearly that is not what he is speaking of.

There has been something of an understandable media backlash over the past few weeks on 'free schools' following investigations into mismanagement, quality of service or misappropriation of budgets. I am not here to defend this or previous government's educational policies and understand that there is that element of controversy when it comes to public money being spent on alternative education. That is a completely separate issue. I strongly believe, however, in the principle that freedom in education is what makes it so appealing and worth fighting for and that many of the most enriching experiences for children/students do not necessarily stem from the institutionalised forms of education.

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