I've been at best ambivalent towards Labour's notion of academy schools over the past thirteen years. I never felt the need to join the ranks of old-school socialists who outrightly opposed these key tenets of Blair's education policies as, having long left the state education system, I neither experienced it first hand as a teacher or a pupil and was far more interested in higher education policy when these places were first set up. I also strongly felt that academies hadn't yet been fully proven. Only now will the first batch of pupils be starting to emerge from Labour's academy schools into universities and the world of work.
So I was particularly struck by the vagaries of Tory education policy today, the day the General Election was finally called. We were reminded during Cameron's somewhat over-confident speech this morning that the Conservatives would let people "with a passion for education" start a school.
Well, that's nice of them - they're clearly thinking of people like me. I'm absolutely passionate about education too, but I also firmly believe that education should be firmly in the hands of professionals, and not a mysterious, and as yet-unnamed collection of 'charities, parent and teacher groups,trusts, voluntary groups and co-operatives' which their draft education manifesto refers to. I also happen to be absolutely passionate about our railways, and I really do believe in their power to enable people to make sustainable transport choices, but at the same time I've never been a train driver, or worked for a railway company or ever had any academic qualification in transport operations. I think I'd probably be a bit of a liability left in charge of our railways.
So Dave, what makes those people who are passionate about education really good education providers - a really efficient yet untested way of providing public services? What tests will they be subject to? How do we even know that they will provide this service at better value than the state currently provides, in an arguably untested system of academies and specialist schools? It seems like change for change's sake, and an easy way of promoting new found Tory co-operative principles.
Dave is right - there's a big choice when it comes to the future of our public services, but even with the unknowns of Labour's academy experiment, I'm prepared to give New Labour the benefit of the doubt for trying out an idea that at least had the support of education professionals.