Dickinson College Humanities Program in Norwich

Interview #3: A Parent and Teacher’s Perspective

May 19th, 2010 · No Comments

In order to gain greater perspective on how a teacher and parent perceived the privatization of state education in the 21st century, I sought out an interview with a woman studying at UEA for her Master’s degree. She had taught (and remained employed part-time) at a local state secondary school in Norwich. Because of her ties to the state education system and pointed views on the subject, I have decided to maintain her anonymity.

Our meeting took place in two sessions. The first focused primarily on defining privatization (it remains in many ways elusive even to those who have been researching it for several months now) and the second addressed her personal feelings toward the subject as it has affected her profession as a teacher and intentions as a parent.

Privatization, as it applies to the merging of private companies/organization with state schools, can have one of many definitions. The variations mainly arise when considering the intentions of the private sponsor of the school. For example, a failing school could close and then be taken over by a faith-based organization. Given the basic definition of privatization and the establishment of academies, this faith-based organization would have absolute control over the financial allocations, curriculum, and general function of the school. Some, like the woman I interviewed, could find this potentially harmful, as it may directly and indiscreetly undermine a balanced cultivation of student opinion (having been inculcated with the very specific agenda of the school). Certainly, there are useful and relevant traits within this type of schooling (e.g. a vocational school preparing students for the workforce), but it still generates some unease about the intentions of the school and impact it has on students. (This issue would come up again in my interview with Richard Hewitt, who pointed out the issue many take with specialist schools and the limits they place on what a student learns in school.) In general, she emphasized the need for academies to consider what is sacrificed at the expense of propagating a biased curriculum.

Her thoughts to the fears of privatization and city academies led her to discuss her friend, D. Bookless and her relatively positive experience teaching at an oversubscribed and popular academy. Certainly, many question the “glossy cover” of academies and are right in doing so. Their assessment may not fully account for the positive experiences in academies, though.

To summarize her feelings on the fears and general sentiments shown by critics of privatization, she told me that “reputations last longer than realities.” In other words, people (parents, students, teachers) will likely stay attached to a school because of its general reception in the public and not because of its real intricacies (which may prove to be less than adequate). How does this relate to the subject of academies? Their introduction into the state education system creates a “consumer economy” in which many choose schools based on their charm, “glitz,” and general reception in the local community. (Of course, this is not always a proper way to gauge the success of a school.) Academies, in this way, provide a “quick fix” to the inadequacies of the state education system without creating lasting change.

Her less professional impression of privatization gave some sense of how a parent perceives the academy system. Certainly, academies can improve state education by boosting available resources (e.g. improved access of technology) and by refreshing a once-failing school. Still, there remains some hesitation. My interviewee said she would ultimately choose a standard school over an academy, for the latter can have a faith-based curriculum/instruction. Even if no strictly faith-based instruction is employed, academies and other specialist schools can still be less diverse and mixed than standard state schools.

Of course, this prioritization of diversity in state schools does not apply for all parents. In general, she noted that most parents would look for to the head teacher as a reflection of the school’s fit with the student’s personality. More immediately, a school’s academic calendar can influence a parent’s decision to send their child to a certain school (Academies often have a different schedule than other state schools, simply because they have the power dictate when school is in session.)

One of the interesting points she made regarding the supposed panacea of privatization and academies was its alternatives. She mentioned the simultaneous effort to encourage incredibly effective headteachers to move around from school to school in order to fix all the failures and boost results. While the program of “superheads” did not become mainstream or lasting, its success in Norwich schools (e.g. Hewitt School) shows how sometimes a school needs individualized attention, including those focused on leadership.

For having a bias against academies, my interviewee was able to acknowledge the recent successes of the academy program. The program makes many promises that, at least in the opinion of one teacher and parent, may be fulfilled immediately but will not last as funding and other issues begin to erode the purported “glossy cover” of academies.

Tags: Brandon