The decision by the Government to put an end to the Building Schools for the Future Programme is something that concerns me greatly. It has become more and more apparent to me over the years that we are profoundly affected by our circumstances and the things that surround us. ‘I am I plus my surroundings’ as the philosopher Jorge Ortega Y Gasset put it. BSF was about replacing the school buildings we had been lumbered with after the War – most of us of a certain age will recall prefabs and Portakabins – and creating school environments that reflected something contemporary and important.
What is possibly more worrying is the new emphasis on Free Schools, which Michael Gove has been championing for some time based on a Swedish model. (I had cause to write about this some time ago for a Swedish client and am aware that the Swedish example is not ideal.) Such schools do not demonstrably increase standards but they do increase elitism and they do encourage the dissemination of dangerous and stupid ideas such as creationism, especially when, as Gove does, you think that the people who run them should have more control over the curriculum.
There is already a precedent here. The Labour Government actively championed the Academy system which encouraged autonomous control of the curriculum. Tony Blair himself personally endorsed The Kings Academy in Middlesbrough which taught pupils of the dangers of ‘moral relativism’ and that the literal Genesis account of the creation was just as valid a scientific explanation for the origins of the world as anything else. I can only see free schools taking us further in the same direction given the interest religious groups have already shown in running hundreds of free schools.
We are in danger of exchanging a programme that was to deliver a progressive education infrastructure for one that will encourage a growing number of young people to discard science, intellectual rigour, open mindedness, tolerance and The Enlightenment for a belief in the fairies at the bottom of the garden. If you want to see where this might lead, you only have to look at America and the number of people there who believe the world is 6000 years old, women were made from the rib of man, that the world is going to end in the next fifty years and that when it does that will be a good thing.