British politicians and British civil servants have only recently started waking up to the facts of modern life. It is only in the last few years that they have begun to trust groups of parents to start their own schools so that their children can learn subjects that are more relevant to modern, highly specialised, scientifically based skills than those of the usual curricula of the state secondary schools.
This was due mainly to a close association between Tony Blair, the Labour Prime Minster until 2007 and his chief advisor, Jonathan Powell, an ex civil servant. It was because Powell had been an ex-Treasury civil servant, and was therefore the recipient of a great amount of obeisance from senior civil servants in the Department of Education, that Free Schools ever got started in the first place against the fierce resistance of the teachers’ trade unions. It was an extraordinary event of successful politics that even the Conservative opposition probably could not have managed had they been in power at that time.
And it’s an abiding resistance, too, from the teaching trade unions. Despite the fact that the first few Free Schools are now producing students with better results than state schools, the teaching unions, if they’re ever given the chance of influencing government again, would scrap them. And they would undoubtedly have the support of the Department of Education because it would restore in full their previous power over directing what state schools should teach and the supply of insufficiently qualified teachers for the state secondary schools where there were scarcely any scientists, engineers or mathematicians among them.
Thankfully, the succeeding Conservative administration, as the present one, continued the policy of allowing parents to start new Free Schools. I haven’t yet heard what Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party, has to say on the matter, but as he hasn’t said anything in Free Schools’ favour — nor even mentioned them at all — I would judge from what I’ve seen of him so far that he would be too weak to resist the teachers’ trade unions if he ever got into power. A new Labour administration might well scrap the Free Schools in the same way that the first Labour administration after the Second World War scrapped the old grammar schools of this country which were the only ones, besides the very small number of private schools, who were supplying enough students well trained in science and engineering.
Given the resurgence of China, particularly in regard to two key areas of research and future economic development — which I will write about in the next blog — then extreme left-wingers now gathering like flies around Jeremy Corbyn should be resisted and why I would hope that sensible Labour Party MPs, such as Liz Kendall, will gain more influence in the coming years.