Fraser Nelson

Gove puts democracy ahead of bureaucracy

Gove puts democracy ahead of bureaucracy
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Michael Gove's welcome freeze on Building Schools for the Future will invite tomorrow's press to claim only that this means 715 various building projects are not being carried out. In fact, what it means is that the fund will be open for the Swedish-style new schools. The budget will be transferred from bureaucratic priorities to those of communities, as expressed by those who wish there to be a new school.

One of the great tragedies of the politicians' stranglehold over education is that they just love huge, shiny buildings to point at, complete with new whiteboards and all the latest gadgets. The Swedish experiment has shown the parents care not one jot about how grand the building is: their value is placed on the importance of teaching. So the kids may well be sent to a school which is, literally, a converted office block without a playground or a science lab. Some parents, of course, prefer the extra kit. But the Free Schools system would give parents the option.

The ones I have been in have pretty rudimentary desks and equipment. The money goes into the best single resource for education: teachers. If a school has a good reputation for ethos, discipline and teaching quality then parents will flock there – regardless of the state of its grounds, or how well kitted-out its chemistry lab is.

The voucher system in Sweden shifted resources to the priorities of parents, and this is what Gove is doing for Building Schools for the Future fund. The PFI project is so dangerous in health because it "invests" in huge great hospital buildings, where the future lies in smaller, local units. I believe the schools revolution will show a switch from capital to current spending – and that this will be direct democracy in action.

Gove is right to call the Building Schools for the Future fund "undemocratic". He used the word to infuriate the local authorities: by their language, everything a council does is "democratic" and council control is "democratic control". In fact, it is bureaucratic control.

The Tories – with the Orange Book Lib Dems – are ushering in a new type of democracy. And one which Balls & Co will like not one bit.

UPDATE: A few people have Tweeted responses to the above post, but not posted them. I'll try to answer them quickly,

1. Adam Grey says "BSF isnt bureaucracy, it's classrooms, ICT, 21st century facilities. And for all, not just a few in the 'free' schools." Adam, I sat that BSF sends money along bureaucratic priorities, not that it is for bureaucracy. And the 'few' in the free schools should, hopefully, be those fleeing sink schools. Parents whose kids are suffering in sink schools don't want to wait for a new whiteboard or computers. They want their kid to get out. The Gove plan will do that.

2. PutneyLabour says I should tell Elliot School in Putney why "the repairs they have needed for decades" won't arrive. I'd say that Labour was in power for 13 years and more than doubled the education budget - if those repairs didn't arrive during that decade then the problem is the system, not the money poured into it. The Free Schools legislation will allow schools to claim for the pupils all the money currently siphoned off by Local Authority bureaucrats, so if Elliot School wanted the freedoms of a City Academy it could find extra money that way. I'm sure its headteachers and staff could spend money better themselves  than Putney council does on their behalf.

3. YorkieRose asks "what would you prefer? A new school for your children and jobs for local people, or dilapidated, unhealthy uninspiring shacks". It's interesting that she raises jobs, because Gove's new schools will actually provide more jobs - and for teachers. Money otherwise being spent on bricks and mortar can be directed to these jobs.