The abolition of playtime

It is always necessary to mock people in authority, except when they do it too well themselves. Who wrote these guys’ scripts?

 “We are not intending to have any play time,” said Alan McMurdo, the head teacher.Pupils won’t need to let off steam because they will not be bored.”…Miles Delap, project manager at the academy, said: “…We have taken away an uncontrollable space to prevent bullying and truancy.” Delap, who has run the academy project on behalf of its sponsor, Perkins Engines, and the Deacon school trust, said that playgrounds did not fit into the concept.’

This story, by an excellent journalist called Geraldine Hackett,  needs to be read in full. (Hat tip to Natalie Bennett.) At one level, this is just a cheerless gaggle of middle-management types who have forgotten what it was like to be fourteen years old, who don’t care if they are taking some kids’ childhoods away, and who won’t be the ones who have to impose discipline on a room full of adolescents who have spent all day cooped up indoors. Nothing new under the sun: every society known to us has produced people with a total lack of imagination and a relish for exercising power.

But why are they getting away with it? That is rather new, surely. Geraldine Hackett provides the necessary context:

‘Thomas Deacon… will be one of the biggest schools in Europe… and is one of the showcases of Tony Blair’s academies programme.

‘Academy schools remain in the state sector but are independent of local councils. They are sponsored by private sector firms which have some say in the management. ‘

So we can draw some wider lessons beyond that of the foolishness of Delap, McMurdo and their cohorts. The local parents were not consulted as to whether they wanted their children to be sent to a playground-less school. They now have no democratic way of changing this decision- short of hoping for a change of policy in London. That’s it, because the management of the school is answerable only to central government,  not to anybody elected locally.

 Yes, they can vote for someone else as their MP, and hope that this leads to a change of government in Westminster, and eventually to a change of policy for their academy. But perhaps the voters of Peterborough have other reasons for not voting against the Labour Party. Perhaps- very likely- they will vote against them but their votes will hardly be enough to change the party in power. And perhaps- even likelier- the local Tory candidate will make all the right noises about playgrounds and the Tory party itself, when and if it reaches power, will find it convenient to go on ignoring local parents’ wishes. A school playground in one town, whilst it is a very big deal indeed for a few thousand parents and children, is a very small matter for the government of the world’s fourth or fifth biggest economy. 

Here  we have a clear example of why local democracy can’t be dismissed as the obsession of a few anoraks.   Petty authoritarians, grasping architects, empire-building managers: these have always existed and will always do so. The way that we can keep them from doing too much damage is to give the people most affected by their policies the democratic right to vote them out of power. 


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