Journalist and Writer
Hilary Wilce specialising in all aspects of education
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The Quandary - 04 Mar 2010

Who should be allowed to run schools? No one seems to be doing a good job of it. Do we need change?

Hillary's Advice

My view, shaped by decades of visiting schools all round the world, is that this question doesn’t matter nearly as much as we think. Politicians get very hung up on it. The Tories, for example, currently think that their wheeze of allowing groups of parents and others to set up ‘free’ schools will somehow sprinkle educational stardust across the nation’s schoolchildren.

But no matter whether a school is run by the government, a local authority, a charitable trust, or some other partisan group, the same tough questions remain. What do pupils need to know? How can we get first-class teachers to teach them it? How do we help those teachers do the best job they can in the classroom? And what will motivate children – of all types and abilities -- to learn?

But maybe all the current questions of school ownership are actually part of a much bigger debate about where we want our society to go. I was prompted to think this by a provocative new book, Common Wealth. For a free, equal, mutual and sustainable society (Hawthorne Press, £15.00), in which social activist Martin Large argues the case for smaller, more flexible schools run by a balanced partnership between government and the education sector.

But this is only one part of his much wider contention – that in our post-crash, climate-challenged world we urgently need to build a new tripolar society in which civil society, government and business all work together for the common good.