Tuesday, 19 February 2013


Why not secular ones?

I have just reviewed this posting from yesterday and slightly expanded the argument to make my intentions, I hope, a little clearer:

Particularly, I was NOT proposing a school for disabled children but for any children whose parents are seeing a particular style of schooling to fit in with their ideals of how their children should be brought up. I expand that a little further below.

Choose God

There is some such choice in our education system already, and has been since the year dot, albeit expressed in terms of 'denominational' schools, that is schools defined by some kind of religious affiliation, Church of England, Catholic, Jewish, Sikh, whatever... Parents often go though extraordinary hoops to get their children into such schools, not necessarily because of any religious or even simply cultural aspirations but because of a general feeling that the pupils there would be better behaved and achieve more highly than in run-of-the-mill state schools.

(That feeling is certainly general and long-standing. Shortly after the Second War I myself was asked which of two primary schools I would like to attend. I immediately chose the less conveniently situated, the C of E alternative, sight-unseen) – 'because it will be less rough'. I was seven, and probably right!)

So why not educational philosophy?

We might do religion in England but we tend not to do educational philosophy (any explicit philosophy, come to that). If parents wish to choose a school with a distinct educational philosophy, defined without the mediation of religious affiliation, then in practice the question can hardly arise. The liberal middle classes and their media might be vaguely aware of something called 'Montessori' and something else called 'Steiner', both rare as hen's teeth and both, judging by their names, vaguely exotic. They might even be aware too that both are antediluvian, and slightly dotty. In practice, though, the great majority of the population have no access to such educational alternatives, even at the level of general awareness. With the absurdly monolithic state educational system that we now have in this country, the very notion of differing education philosophy is closed off to them.

I propose no more that than offering a simply secular alternative to the dominant educational and developmental ideology within our currently state-dominated education system. In this case I propose specifically one that draws strongly upon education that is 'conductive'. There are of course others, actual or potential...

Previous posting on this matter

(including Comments by Susie Mallett and Norman Perrin)


  1. "In practice, though, the great majority of the population have no access to such educational alternatives".

    Quite so, and that is why I feel so strongly that parents should have choice. Expressing this to a local politician, whose views generally I find sympathetic, I was roundly told that meaningful "choice in education" was "impossible". My response was that there are always choices in education: the issue was who precisely was making them, parents or politicians.

    We have become so habituated to the status quo that the inherent absurdities of "the absurdly monolithic state educational system" and the whole apparatus of 19th and 20th century-devised schooling that goes with it has become a sacred cow.

    In putting Paces School forward to convert to a Free School, we were, of course, proposing "a simply secular alternative to the dominant educational and developmental ideology", one that was "conductive" but which had the deeper intention of launching a challenge to some of the ramparts of the system - such as the boundary between schooling and upbringing, or between teachers and parents, that determine who does what, when and to what end.

    Unfortunately, despite this group of parents/conductors/staff/volunteers having built up a 'regular' special school over 15 years, one that even the State inspectors deemed "Good" bordering on "Outstanding", we were not, at the last hurdle, deemed competent by DfE to become a Free School based on an educationally alternative philosophy and practice

  2. Actually, Norman, I have to ask myself whether the decision was made on any such basis: more likely by combination of tick-box and preconception. Fused together these must forge a powerful bureaucratic tool, both for blocking some initiatives and waving others through.

  3. Read it today in your choice of newspaper, The Independent ( http://ind.pn/132lbo1 ) or The Daily Telegraph ( http://bit.ly/132wsVz ) (I can't find the story in The Guardian - maybe, as ever was, a day or so late), but the story is still the same, the assault on proponents of Free Schools.
    Personally, I find the position of the British Humanist Association in this irrational, at best, aggressively politically motivated at worst.

    And while I am offering links, here are a couple related to Steiner and Steiner Free Schools ( http://bit.ly/VizQrC ) The writer concludes his piece: "If the government is serious are providing choice in school types, that only makes sense if that choice is based on freely available, accurate and complete information. I hope my summary here suggests, at least, for Steiner Schools, that this may not be the case."

    On the contrary, "choice" only makes sense if making choices is respected. That, I suspect, and not "faith" or "barmpottery" is the nub of the problem. (I am tempted to relate this discussion to the systemic denial of choice in education - and other spheres - to disabled people, but that's a step too far so early in the day. Keep smiling)

  4. A footnote. Would any attempt to promote a conductive education free school provoke such attacks? Perhaps not. Though I suspect a 'chain' of such schools might.

    I cannot say that Paces' very early decision to do so attracted much direct antagonism but more than a few people expressed their opposition to Free Schools (among friends of Paces, too) including some vitriolic comments about Michael Gove, apparently unaware that the path had been laid Ruth Kelly and Andrew Adonis. The political (and Political with a capital 'P') reaction to our decision to go ahead would be an interesting story to tell if only one had time.