Today’s announcement that Labour supports bringing in state-funded military schools has provoked quite a lot of reaction – not least from me. I don’t like the idea, amongst other things because it seems to me to perpetuate three particularly damaging myths:
1) That ‘discipline’, ‘leadership’ and ‘aspiration’ are not really possible in ‘conventional’ comprehensive schools.
2) That ‘military-style’ discipline really works, particularly for disadvantaged kids.
3) That it’s possible to find a ‘quick fix’ to educational problems.
All three are attractive – particularly to the average Daily Mail reader – but all three are neither true nor helpful. The first denies the excellence of a lot of fine comprehensive schools, and panders to the false image of the state of current education put about largely by the media. It also suggests that there’s only one kind of comprehensive school – the ‘loose’, ‘indisciplined’ kind. In reality, every school is different, and you don’t need to impose new ‘types’ of school to get pluralism.
The second myth lies behind the regular suggestion that we should bring back National Service, the short-lived ‘short sharp shock’ youth prisons and so forth. It misses the key point: military discipline works well for some, terribly for others. Which kids would end up at military schools? The ones who would thrive? It doesn’t seem likely – if the children themselves has the choice, perhaps, but if their parents want them ‘shocked’ the consequences could be disastrous.
The third myth is the worst of all – if only life was so simple. It’s this myth that leads to the regular and deeply damaging political tinkering with our educational system. What’s needed isn’t another ‘great idea’ or new initiative, it’s proper support and decent investment in our schools. It’s fostering an atmosphere where teachers are valued and good and able students are encouraged to become the teachers of the future.
That means standing back. Stopping interfering. Supporting, not undermining schools. And, for goodness’ sake, no new types of schools… least of all the military schools!