Who controls our schools?


Daniel Hall, Long Garden Walk, Farnham, GU9 7HX

Dr Robert Sykes was Headteacher of a large, mixed comprehensive school in Hampshire for 23 years. His school was twice graded as outstanding in all categories by Ofsted. He was awarded a CBE for services to education in 2014.

His talk examined the development of faith schools in the state system and then looked at the current Government policies regarding faith, selective, academy and free schools.

Keith Hayward writes about Dr Sykes’ talk:

“Dr Sykes began by reviewing the historical development of secondary education in the UK. Originally, most schools were controlled by the church. In 1833 there were the first government grants for the building of schools. Grants were issued for C of E, Roman Catholic, Wesleyan and Jewish schools. The 1870 Education Act introduced elementary education for all. Schools were controlled by locally elected School Boards, but separate from local government. The 1902 Education Act abolished School Boards, and created Local Education Authorities based upon County Councils. This act led to state secondary schools, but continued a divided system of grammar schools for a few, and secondary schools for the rest. The school leaving age rose to 14 in 1918, and 15 in 1936. The 1944 Education Act created a Minister for Education, but most issues were still devolved locally.

Post war, a tripartite system was introduced, based on examination and so continuing divided schooling, comprising Grammar Schools (11+ exam), Technical Schools (13+ exam), and Secondary Modern schools for those remaining. 1960’s to 1980’s, saw the introduction of Comprehensive schools, beginning a move towards non-selective education. The raising of the leaving age to 16 for all came in 1973. The GCE “O” level was introduced in 1951 and was aimed at the top 25%. The CSE exam was introduced in 1965, for those below the “O” level, and the GCSE exam was introduced in 1986.

The 1988 Education Reform act introduced the National Curriculum and Ofsted, and some ability to express preference regarding admission. The Labour Government of 1997-2010 banned new grammar schools, and continued to press for non-selective Comprehensive education. It also established City Academies to take over from failing schools. A Conservative government White Paper of 2016 claimed that by the end of 2020 all schools will be academies, or in the process of becoming academies. And by the end of 2022 local authorities will no longer maintain schools.

One theme of Dr Sykes’ lecture was the introduction and recent expansion of government funding for “faith schools”. He noted that, in May 2018, the Education Secretary announced “New support for faith schools”, and a “scheme to help create new voluntary aided schools” which “allows for schools to open with up to 100% faith-based admissions”. Humanists are opposed to this policy. He quoted the head of Ofsted, Amanda Spielman “Ofsted inspectors are increasingly brought into contact with those who want to actively pervert the purpose of education. Under the pretext of religious belief they use education institutions, legal and illegal, to narrow young people’s horizons, to isolate and segregate, and in the worst cases to indoctrinate impressionable minds with extremist ideology”.

He spoke at some length on “Operation Trojan Horse” in 2014, where, it was alleged, Birmingham Islamists were implementing a process of islamisation of state schools. An additional investigation by Peter Clarke, ex-head counter terrorism unit in the metropolitan police, found that in some schools: language teaching was restricted to Arabic; there was a ban on sexual education; creationism was taught in science lessons; there was a ban on musical instruments and drama; sexes were segregated in classrooms. To address this problem, Prime Minister David Cameron announced Ofsted inspections without warning, and a return to the teaching of “British Values”.

Another theme of Dr Sykes’ lecture was the recent government move back towards grammar schools and selective education. Government proposals include: Support for existing grammar schools to expand; permitting the establishment of new selective schools; permitting existing non-selective schools to become selective. He didn’t hide his feelings in this matter, quoting a signed letter by “All 64 head teachers of Surrey’s state-maintained secondary schools”, expressing “vehement opposition” to more grammar schools. “This policy is predicated on a nostalgic and unrealistic vision of society”.

The talk engendered a lively discussion among the audience, dealing with such subjects as the National Curriculum, and academies.”