Opinion

Opinion: Knowledge is Power… or is it?


Academies have been in the news a lot lately, and others may have blogged about them, but I was struck by comments politicians made about academies and local authorities on Radio 4’s Any Questions a few weeks ago, where at least two politicians talked about releasing schools from local authority control. They repeatedly said they didn’t want ‘local authorities to continue running schools.’ It is interesting when you listen to news or current affairs programmes where subjects are being discussed that you know quite a lot about. I often find in these cases that commentators and politicians often show their ignorance.

The phrase, ‘local authorities running schools’ was not questioned by anyone on the panel. These politicians also said more than once that they, ‘wanted decision making power to go to the teachers and headteachers to decide how their school is run.’ It was stated more than once and in that order, teachers first, headteachers second. I found this alarming.

First of all, after 22 years in secondary schools I never once felt that the local authority was running the school or that it was meant to be running the school. The Headteacher along with the governing body make the policy decisions regarding running the school and setting the curriculum, deciding who to employ and for what jobs. The local authority is involved in passing funds onto the school, processing staff salaries, and providing services. This might be for special needs for example. The authority also provide advice for different subject areas, for methods of teaching and assessment, and training to staff in a variety of areas like child protection. It was never the case that they ran the schools in their area.

As regards decision making power going to teachers, well… Teachers do not make policy decisions or management decisions. They basically get told what to do, and then they plan and teach. Any admin is also decided for them…. this is what you have to do and this is how you do it. Also, in my experience the managers in schools have become less and less interested in the views of the teachers. Academy status will only enhance the power of the headteacher and the governing body, which will create an environment where pay and conditions are not protected and the life of the teacher may become more uncomfortable.

I find it worrying, even scary, to hear politicians talking with such ignorance about how things work in a particular area. These are the same people who vote on new bills or get promoted to minister or secretary of state, and make idealogical decisions on how major systems should function, with no clear idea about what goes on.

It also seems to me that this ignorance is mirrored in the current debate on Brexit. Politicians on both sides talk about the effects of the referendum, leaving or not leaving, with an often used term, ‘the truth of the matter is.’ It seems to be their ego and self-interest that tries to persuade rather than any particular truth. It is certainly clear that a lot of these people will be proved hopelessly wrong, whilst many of us will have wielded our voting power making a decision based on what must be limited knowledge.

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Andrew Bateson is 57 years old and initially trained as a Geologist. He has been a secondary school teacher for 22 years teaching Chemistry and Science to 11 to 18 year olds. Previously he worked in the Ceramic industry in research and development and then management. He has experience of both the independent and state sectors, teaching in single sex and mixed sex schools. As a Union Rep., he followed educational policy closely throughout his teaching career. He has retired from teaching to continue working with OOL and to retrain as a Psychotherapist.

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