WRITTEN QUESTION TO THE MINISTER FOR EDUCATION, SPORT AND CULTURE
BY SENATOR J.L. PERCHARD
ANSWER TO BE TABLED ON TUESDAY 19th OCTOBER 2010
How many student places are available in each of the non fee paying secondary schools and which year groups of those schools have the spare places?
Due to the designated catchment areas assigned to each school, two of our secondary schools are full. There is capacity for a further 318 students in the remainder of the non-fee paying secondary schools, across all year groups. If additional spaces are required, the department has a degree of flexibility to accommodate more students if circumstances dictate.
What this appallingly weasel answer means, of course, by "degree of flexibility" is that class sizes will have to rise. But Deputy Reed, the man who described himself as "blunt" recently in the JEP, now reveals himself to be really shy of making any declaration that is blunt at all. Instead there is the kind of rambling jargon that one might expect from Jim Hacker in "Yes Minister".
The current thinking behind the reductions in the subsidy to private schools is that it should be rapid, and be at 25% as quickly as possible. That means, of course, as we have seen in letters in the JEP, that parents struggling already will have to transfer their children to the States school, and the child's education will undoubtedly suffer as a result.
Yet Deputy Reed has a point with relation to spaces. If there are waiting lists, and not all children can get into the private schools, he believes the demand is fee related, and the fee is too low. If the fees rise, the numbers on the waiting lists will reduce until an equilibrium point is reached. It does mean that the private schools are ruled out of the pocket of those who might choose them for other reasons - religious, for example - but it does make sense in a crude Thatcherite economics.
But like Thatcher's economics, the speed of the change fails to address the distress it will cause for parents who simply cannot make ends meet, and have to give up, and the child who is snatched away from one school and has to suddenly fit in - and avoid bullying at the hands of children who see the posh kid on the block, and want to take away any airs they may have. Of course we are told that schools have anti-bullying policies, and bullying does not happen, but anyone with children at school knows this is palpable nonsense. The bullies will always find ways to avoid the teacher's gaze, or the bullying will take place after school, on the way home, outside the responsibility of the teacher as loco parentis. There is also the stigma to parents of apparently failing their children, despite their best efforts, and perhaps here sowing the seeds for disrespect and adolescent crime.
I don't have children at fee paying schools, and I have no axe to grind. I think the education they give is probably mixed, with some excellent teachers, and some pretty poor ones. But I dislike the way in which the economic arguments seem to trump any consideration of social implications, and when there may be an impact on States education, such as rising class sizes (judged by these median not the mean size), this can somehow be glossed over as a "degree of flexibility", as if somehow the human element does not enter into Deputy Reed's calculations.
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