A Head for Freedom?

At what cost in time and quality of life will this graph prove its worth?

Nick Gibb’s claim that the ‘Free Market’ in UK education will drive up teachers’ salaries is either the naïve frothing of a headless Friedmanite fundamentalist, the Friedmanite, headless frothing of a naïve fundamentalist, or the fundamentalist frothing of a naïve and headless Friedmanite.

The basic premise of the mythical free market is that it depends upon open-access to an infinitude of choice – otherwise it is not free.

Parental choice is bound by a harsh combo of geographical and economic restrictions. The choices made by headteachers and governing bodies are bound by (drastically tightening) budgetary restrictions. An individual teacher’s choice, in terms of shopping around in this so-called seller’s marketplace, is whichever job is within commuting distance from my 110% ‘buy-to-live’ mortgaged, depreciating shoebox of a maisonette.

Unlike most of our political class, we are not at liberty to bandy our resignations around like Argos order slips: to be exchanged for the next consultancy, board membership or slot on the after-dinner speech circuit.

Freedom, in fact, seems to be in short supply at all points in the school network: children bound by attainment; teachers bound by key performance indicators that would make even the most seasoned entrepreneur give up the ghost; parents who have to beg, borrow and blag their way into the most choice catchment areas; and schools having to acheive more highly than ever on haemorrhaging budgets.

The myth of freedom is growing more hackneyed and hollow by the hour. 52% of us seem to be less than enamoured of Freedom of Movement and I’d warrant that a fair proportion of both Brexiters and Remainers are not entirely convinced that single markets have succeeded in lifting them out of an economic malaise that only metropolitan centres have seemingly escaped (and only then, arguably, due to property inflation caused by competing foreign investment).

The half-cocked liberalisation (marketisation, whatever) of the UK education system will not raise anything: neither standards, nor salaries. It will only raise the stakes and the thickness of a school’s veneer of standards required in order to avoid the disastrous consequences of failure in a fixed mindset, fail-once system.

A collective freedom at the expense of individual freedom is no freedom at all. The Year 6 teachers up at 1.30am this morning, diligently poring over their SAT results, collectively seeking to make good sense of the conditions imposed upon them by a new set of rigid standards, they were perhaps free to choose to stay awake and gnaw their datasets to the marrow of each cellbone.

Or perhaps not. Not free at all. Diligent, caring and, against the dull, crushing weight of an expectation to be competitive, they are heroically collaborative: yes. But free?

Neither brave, nor new, and most certainly not free: this ‘market’ needs managing. It always has done. No shop is allowed to run itself; no business charts its way rudderless in the hopes that it shall find some natural equilibrium.

Businesses, communities, schools and countries are led. That is why we think and plan and teach and learn.

That is why we have heads. Not to deathwish for freedom or ogle an array of empty choices, but to deal with the glorious of mess of life; to think and to make difficult choices: in short, to manage.

Teachers do this every day. If we didn’t? No number of precious minutes would be enough for the dust to settle on our infinite wait-time. No lesson would simply find itself serendipitously (at least not every lesson, every day).

Nick. We plan and we lead. We’d like you to do the same. 

Drop your silly free markets.

And get a head.

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