It seems awfully early to be calling this one but it does seem like the free schools initiative has bombed. Sadly, I’m calling it. Free schools, just not disruptive enough.
Let me explain. In the business world, technology and the internet has allowed for businesses to disrupt the traditional. Companies like Amazon, ebay, Etsy and Ocado have challenged the way we do retail and thrown some marbles under the feet of the dinosaurs. Its painful stuff to watch but it has also brought benefits to consumers in the form of prices falling, quality of service, convenience and innovation. Having a disruptive force in your sector forces you to be creative and innovate and that should be good for everyone in the longterm.
Of course small independent bookshops will disagree with this view, as would lots of small and rural companies who may have had to close, restructure or be taken over by the largely foreign, non-tax-paying mega corps. Change is always painful. But if you don’t evolve you don’t survive and the many years of profit taking and sitting on laurels has made lots of industries ripe for a disruptive challenge.
Education has been largely unchanged since the 1950s. It is very cosy, very biased and desperately in need of a rethink. To my eyes some disruptive challenge would be an excellent thing. Why not have a school that has a school year that is sensibly designed, a curriculum that favours the learner, fosters creativity, employability, the vocational and the academic equally, allows specialism and excellence and doesn’t process learners by age alone? That sounds like a free school to me.
But that is not what we’ve got.
Free schools seem to have done the complete opposite. Stifling innovation, fixing the curriculum to the 1950s model, prioritising privilege or faith, damning difference and playing the traditional performance table games. Sadly it’s not innovative at all and has been done before throughout the 60 odd years since the post war reforms, and doesn’t work. The “free” in free schools just means “free from the council”, or “free from the local area so my precious son/daughter can have the education I had and it worked for me”.
Not one of the new free schools has been a valuable piece of disruptive technology in the education development of the country. So I’m calling it.
Free schools, a disruptive business model that wasn’t disruptive enough.