Do we need to free schools from ‘The Blob’?

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I am ambivalent about attempts to give schools more autonomy. We have seen some successful charter schools in the U.S. and free schools in the U.K. and we’ve also seen some poor ones. I know that’s meant to be the point – the market should do the sorting. But what of Sweden? Its autonomous schools all chased each other down the same rabbit hole.

Yet I can’t help reflecting on two schools in particular. The first is the Cape York Academy at Aurukun. It is run by Good to Great Schools, headed by Noel Pearson.

A few months ago, there was trouble in Aurukun. Reports suggest that youths who were not attending school had car-jacked the principal of the academy and attacked teacher accommodation. The Queensland government temporarily evacuated teachers and commissioned a report.

Oddly, the report blamed the ‘Direct Instruction’ teaching approach that Pearson had introduced to the academy from the U.S. Despite some opposition from the local community, the government withdrew the teaching method from the school. Pearson will now pull out of Aurukun.

The other school that has drawn my attention is Michaela Community School in Brent, London. Under the mildly eccentric leadership of Katherine Birbalsingh, Michaela is attempting to demonstrate that a strongly traditionalist approach to secondary education can work in the 21st century.

There was a minor scandal a few months back over the school’s lunch policy. No doubt, if it was under the control of local government then this would have been a trigger to move in and stamp-out the pedagogical non-conformism. But it’s not.

Twitter is full of impotent rage. Following a news report on the school in The Sunday Times, Natasha Devon, a former government adviser dubbed Michaela, ‘actual Hell on Earth‘ and claimed it was ‘abusive‘, all without apparently visiting the school.

Yet even Michaela is not fully autonomous. The one cloud on the horizon is that they are still subject to the English schools inspectorate, Ofsted. Ofsted inspectors have demonstrated clear views about teaching and marking and these don’t align with Michaela’s approach. So they could still be rubbed-out by what Michael Gove once referred to as, “The Blob”; the education establishment and the ways that it imposes its orthodoxy. Let’s hope that they can at least get through to a set of GCSE results – if good, these will be immediately discounted by critics but at least they will provide some evidence for the wider public.

Perhaps we need more freedom and more autonomy so that we can have more schools like Michaela that are prepared to try a different approach.


10 thoughts on “Do we need to free schools from ‘The Blob’?

  1. Tempe says:

    I’ve found another school in England with a similar approach to Michalea called Cottenham Community College. I’d move to England in a flash to send my kids to this school if it where possible visa wise.

    In my despair at the situation in Aust. (the blog) I can only long for schools like these to come to our shores.

    • Marni says:

      Thanks, Greg. I read your posts with fervour.

      Thanks for that, Tempe, I will follow the link. I wholeheartedly agree. I am an expat and crave to send my children to a school like Michaela.

      Interesting, the DI model that is loathed by the progressives is used by an elite private school in Melbourne (there may be many more) with outstanding results. My daughter has received a Y7 – Y12 scholarship and I can’t wait to find out more about it.

    • Tempe says:

      Hi Marni – Congratulations to your daughter. Could you tell me which school in Melbourne you are referring to?

      We live in Brisbane but we are desperate for both proper instruction and more knowledge/content. I would consider moving but the cost of an elite school is probably beyond us. Perhaps if I contacted the school you mention they might be able to give me some leads.

      The head of Cottenham has written a book? Any ideas how some Aussies without grandparents could migrate to England? Cottenham looks fantastic.

      • Marni says:

        Hi Tempe,

        I know him from the blogging sites, but I think I confused him with Shaun Allison and Andy Tharby who wrote a book called Making Every Lesson Count. I can’t remember his name, but he’s quite a prominent blogger.

        The school that I am referring to is called Haileybury. My daughter will be attending the Brighton campus. I think this was where the Oz Research Ed was held (I missed it) 😦

        Sorry, but as far as I know it is very difficult to migrate to the UK. I have an Australian husband and it was very difficult when we tried it a few years ago – too much red tape. Though if you have money you’d have more options. We could’ve persisted (we were waiting to sell our house and the money to come through) but my children hated the UK and finding a place in a local school for both kids was nigh impossible. I wanted to enrol them into one of the grammars (select entry schools), but middle-class parents have bought their way into the extremely tight zones.

        Could you home school? Even if you did it part-time. I have a friend near Brisbane (Nanango) who is home schooling because the school her son attended was appalling. I teach my kids at home to make up for the time they waste at school.

        I follow Michaela and really admire their ethos. Their book is coming out at the end of this month. I want to get my hand on it but will probably have to wait until it comes out on Kindle.

        Best of luck with your goals.


  2. Tempe says:

    Thanks Marni – Yes, I do homeschool my eldest but she is starting to miss her school friends. My youngest doesn’t want to be homeschooled because of her friends, sport etc. Mostly, I love home-schooling but I worry about the “other stuff” that she misses out on and if I’m doing a good job. However, it couldn’t be worse than the Google school she was at.

  3. Marni says:

    Hi Tempe,

    The school that my friend uses to home school has a strong social aspect to it. I’ve attached the link. I think there’s also an institution called Futures Academy, though I’m not sure if it’s a branch of the same organisation. My friend’s son has really done well using it; he’s extremely bright. He was on the recent Great Australian Spelling Bee with my daughter Hanna.

    Good luck with it all. Lol @ the Google school!

    P.S. I’ve just pre-ordered the Michaela book from Amazon.

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