Education Quandary: Who should be allowed to run schools? No one seems to be doing a good job of it. Do we need change?

Hilary's advice

My view, shaped by decades of visiting schools around the world, is that this question doesn't matter nearly as much as we think. Politicians get very hung up on it. The Tories, for example, think that their wheeze of allowing groups of parents and others to set up "free" schools will somehow sprinkle educational stardust over the nation's schoolchildren. But no matter whether a school is run by the Government, a local authority, a charitable trust, or some other partisan group, the same tough questions remain. What do pupils need to know? How can we get first-class teachers to teach them it? How do we help those teachers do the best job in the classroom? And what will motivate children – of all types and abilities – to learn?

Maybe the questions of school ownership are part of a bigger debate about where we want our society to go. I was prompted to think this by a provocative new book, Common Wealth For a Free, Equal, Mutual and Sustainable Society (Hawthorne Press, £15), in which the social activist Martin Large argues for smaller, more flexible schools run by a partnership of government and education. But this is only one part of his much wider contention – that in our post-crash, climate-challenged world we urgently need to build a tripolar society in which civil society, government and business all work together for the common good.

Readers' advice

The success of this country's private schools is living proof that education is much better off in the hands of those who truly care about it and who are both expert and experienced in delivering it. Private schools can set their own rules, values, curriculum and ethos. By their very nature, they can ensure that all pupils and parents sign up to their programme. Government interference will always crush good teaching – and good teachers.

Martin Rich, Berkshire

People who run schools should be those who leave the professionals alone. Teachers in this country spend hours every week working out how to meet the latest demands of their political masters, or filling in forms to prove that they've done it. This is true from nursery classes to secondary schools. All teachers hate it. And all that time and energy is wasted because it does not go towards helping to teach their pupils.

Stephanie Faulkner, London SE1

The Government will always have the final responsibility to run schools that are funded by the taxpayer, and it is absurd to think any other system could take its place. You can allow any number of alternative schools to be set up, but at the end of the day there will always be places where no one wants to do it and then the Government will have to step in and plug the holes to make sure that every child in the country has access to education.

Sheila Moynihan, London W8

Next Week's Quandary

Our school is debating allowing pupils to use their mobiles in the classroom. I think it's crazy, but I feel I'm alone in pushing against the tide. Also, as an older teacher, I know I look like a technophobe, even though I'm not. How can I best put my case?

Send your replies, or any quandaries you would like to have addressed, to h.wilce@btinternet. com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose replies are printed will receive a Collins Paperback English Dictionary 5th Edition. Previous quandaries are online at www.hilarywilce.com. They can be searched by topic.

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