Monday, 15 March 2010

Fit and Proper Persons

As Conor Ryan pointed out last week, there is a major contradiction in the Conservative education policy:

“One day Michael Gove is extolling the virtues of free schools, liberated from the shackles of Whitehall, with the touchy-feely charms of Goldie Hawn jostling alongside Swedish companies to deliver. Days later he is laying down the level of detailed knowledge that every youngster should have of their kings and queens, their classical poetry by heart and their algebra under the tutelage of the Tories’ Maths mistress Carol Vorderman.”

The same observation was made by Matthew Taylor earlier this year in response to Gove’s answers to a series of questions posted by the Royal Society of Arts. Taylor wrote:

“My concern – one I have shared with Michael – is that if he is the Secretary of State the position ‘this is what I think is right but, hey, it’s up to schools and parents to decide’ will be hard to sustain. The powerful traditionalist lobby will expect a sympathetic Secretary of State to stamp down on those progressive practices which they are convinced are damaging children and society. There will be orchestrated pressure and Michael will need to be strong and subtle if he is to espouse his beliefs without becoming prescriptive.”

Gove will need to be particularly ‘strong and subtle’ when deciding which groups will be given funding to start new parent-promoted schools. How, with the above contradictions in mind, will the Tories guarantee that all potential new school providers will be given a fair hearing, regardless of their approach to education?

I have a plan.

The Tories try to reassure us that they will be balanced in their Schools Policy Paper: Raising the Bar, Closing the Gap by saying that:

"With a Conservative Government we anticipate a legal presumption that any application from fit and proper persons who can demonstrate good intent should be accepted unless exceptional circumstances prevail."

So, the only judgment needing to be made is, ‘which people are ‘fit and proper’’? To help them make a balanced judgment I recommend a ‘Fit and Proper Persons Committee’ (to be chaired by Lord Ashcroft). Here are some of the questions the Committee could ask the applicants:

1. Were they a member of the Bullingdon Club?
2. Do they believe in rote learning?
3. Is their favourite actress Goldie Hawn?
4. Can they name all the Kings and Queens of England?
5. Do they pay their taxes in full?*
6. Is their favourite school system the Swedish one (regardless of what the evidence might say about standards slipping)?
7. Is their favourite school Mossbourne Academy?
8. Do they believe the British Empire was a ‘good thing’?
9. Do they like sitting in rows?
10. Do they know any poetry by heart?

In order to be judged a Fit and Proper Person, the applicants must gain at least a 2/2 on the test.**

Suggestions for questions welcomed.....

*Some exceptions may be made
**Some exceptions may be made