Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Government Meddling Is Going off the Rails

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Government Meddling Is Going off the Rails

Article excerpt

As school governors say, ministers' obsession with altering educational structures must come to an end

A few years ago, a small but significant number of university vice-chancellors in this country had their own train sets. Not those little wooden ones, but massive model railways that took up a whole room.

The joke was that this was because our universities were so constrained by constitutions and ancient statutes that this was the only way that they could get any momentum going.

No such luck with schools. Bereft of any such charters, they are wide open to meddling. Tinkering with how the school system is set up has become a hobby for politicians.

"Let's end this obsession with structures," an exasperated Emma Knights, chief executive of the National Governors' Association (NGA), told the Labour conference in Liverpool on Tuesday. She and her members are increasingly concerned that this is the main focus for ministers, instead of the far more pressing issues affecting schools (see pages 8-9, 10-11, and 22-23).

Just as we were getting to grips with academies - or at least national schools commissioner Sir David Carter was - suddenly we were plunged into a debate about grammar schools, which would represent another huge sea change in education policy.

Regardless of the merits or demerits of each policy twist and turn, what is striking is how free the government feels to meddle in education. You can't help but agree with John Dunford, former secondary head and general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, when he says, "You cannot take education out of politics, but it would be good to take some of the politics out of education" (

Of course, all governments meddle. And all governments have a right and duty to shape public policy. But schools seem to get more than their fair share of shaping. …

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