Monday, 17 October 2011

Mike Baker - mouthpiece of the educational establishment. And wrong about free schools, academies and education authorities


Mike Baker – this chap:

Mike Baker is an award-winning freelance journalist, broadcaster, conference facilitator, and education consultant. He was the BBC's education editor for nearly 20 years and is now education columnist for BBC News Online and The Guardian and a presenter at Teachers TV. He has twice been awarded National Education Journalist of the Year.

Knows his education onions one supposes? Or has he won those awards through the simple expedient of regurgitating the press releases of producer interests? Whatever is the case, he seems to lack a clear understanding of how choice drives markets and to be wedded to the teacher unions and local government position that the liberalisation of education access will not drive up standards.

Writing in the Guardian (where else), Mr Baker talks nonsense:

Now, of course, ministers insist they are not running schools, but are creating a market in which consumer satisfaction determines which will flourish and which will have to change their ways. But markets need regulation to ensure that standards are met and to prevent a few big players creating a monopoly by forcing out smaller providers. The question the government is avoiding, at least in public, is whether Westminster can effectively provide that regulation once it is responsible for several thousand schools.

Now, dear reader, you have noticed the contradiction in this glib, knowing statement? The bit about a few big players forcing out smaller providers? You have noticed that, right now, the big semi-monopoly is in fact the 'local education authority' Mike Baker is so keen to defend! If our learned journalist is right, the local council holds all the cards – after all, they still run most of the schools!

However – and despite the evidence of how local council interference damages the efforts of schools to raise standards – Mike Baker thinks such bureaucracies are needed:

...policy advisers are worried about how to tackle coasting schools, a topic that increasingly figures in ministerial speeches. In his conference speech, the prime minister referred to schools in "affluent" Sussex, Cambridgeshire and Hampshire being outperformed by some inner-city counterparts. Cameron's advisers now recognise that some external agency may be needed to prompt coasting schools into raising their game.

Note the used of unnamed sources, hints and suggestions to substantiate Mr Baker’s point – shadowy faces lurking somewhere in Downing Street or the Department for Education (or perhaps in the journalist's fertile mind). Old mates who Mike has bought a coffee or a beer in exchange for a bit of gossip about the development of policy.

Truth be told, the revolution in schools will succeed in addressing those ‘coasting’ schools (and the too large number of failing ones too). The “external agency” is there – it’s called “parents exercising choice” and will be backed up by entrepreneurial individuals and groups who create the schools those parents demand. And existing schools will have to respond or close.

I spent this morning with folk from the Rainbow Schools – a free school initiative in Bradford. They’ve opened this term – getting there despite obstruction from bureaucrats and negative, borderline racist attitudes from some local Labour politicians. Without the free school idea – without the chance to break out – the parents of children at that school would still be beating their head against Bradford’s sclerotic education service.

It is pertinent to note that, for the past two years, all Bradford Council’s education effort has been directed to bringing the education service back in-house. That is all – just a bureaucratic concern with little or no interest in or consideration of the desperate need to raise standards, especially in primary schools.

Mike Baker, for all his expertise and experience is serving the vested interests of education. His writing barely acknowledges the children being educated in the schools and, except dismissively, fails entirely to recognise the role that parents can take in transforming education. Mr Baker repeats the nonsense that we have to plan school places, monitor school performance, manage and fuss over “education delivery”:

...and ensuring there are neither too many nor too few school places to meet fluctuating demographic demand. But how can local authorities reduce expensive surplus places if they have no control over whether academies will expand or free schools open?

This is the language of the planner – Whitehall knows best, how will it work without the bureaucrats! It is what makes our education system – despite the efforts of many teachers and most parents – underperforming next to most of our international comparators. It is the very attitude that free schools were created to break up.

To answer the question I posed, Mike Baker considers himself an expert but is really a creature of education vested interest. Just a mouthpiece for nameless ‘advisors’, teacher union representatives and the expensive panjandrums of local education authorities.


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