Adam Simmonds is the Police and Crime Commissioner for Northamptonshire
In the highly successful American political drama, The West Wing, Sam Seaborn, the White House deputy director of communications, pretends to take a very negative view of schools and teachers. This is in order to prepare the fictional President of the United States for a debate about education. It’s a great episode and it speaks to my heart when Sam seemingly reverses his position and sets out what he really thinks. He says, “Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes; we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defence. That’s my position. I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.”
This is where I am. This is why I am a fierce believer in our country’s Free School programme and what it represents.
To me the programme is about breaking down monopoly. It’s about releasing teachers to do more and go further and innovate. It’s to remove control from local bodies who haven’t successfully managed education for a long time. It’s to allow competition – and a new sense of ‘opportunity’ to be grabbed by all those willing to make a difference. There shouldn’t be ‘the local school’ in 21st century Britain. There should be a market-filled array of schools that parents and young people can choose from, and where teachers can work. As people seeking the very best for our young people, as people looking to work in the best environments and deliver the best service and education, we need a system that constantly challenges itself (supported by good quality inspection) and which allows innovation. Innovation can be in the schools unique vision. It can mean innovation in the manner the curriculum is delivered. It can mean in the size of the classes. As a police and crime commissioner, I have seen at first hand just how important our schools are in the local community. Not just in terms of the children the school produces at the end, but while the young people are attending the school; the role of the school in the community as a source of energy and opportunity.
Our teachers often know which young people need help and intervention ahead of anyone else. They know about the bullying, the victimisation, the anger and disruptive potential; they are made aware of the home-life and the direction of travel. How many teachers would say that they can tell which children will come into contact with the police and the justice system in later life? I do not want generations of young people being identified as potentially at risk of poorer life chances and nothing done about it. I don’t want our schools to be limited in their capacity to intervene early enough in the lives of young people that need just that bit more time. I want schools to exist that change the curriculum to meet the needs of the ‘client’. I want schools to exist in the state system which can be small enough and organised in a way to ensure genuinely that ‘every child matters’. I want to see police and crime commissioners, just as the Home Secretary highlighted recently, that seek to galvanise new and interesting sponsors of schools – universities, businesses, police forces, faith organisations, industry.
In Northamptonshire I have been very publicly supportive of the Northampton Free School Trust which is seeking to open a new kind of school. This school will have a USP which is crime science. It will run the Cambridge International Curriculum and it will also focus on volunteering, citizenship, and have a close relationship with the emergency services.
It will work with the Institute for Public Safety Crime and Justice to study the school’s impact on each young person that attends the school, during their time at the school and beyond. The school will be an all-through school and it will seek to be the kind of school that seeks to understand each child’s needs and shape the curriculum around the child.
As police and crime commissioner I have championed this particular school idea because I believe what it is offering parents and young people is the opportunity of the kind of education that will do more than produce exam results; it will develop young people fit for the world around them. It is when you understand the impact of a school in a local community, that you begin to answer the question of why a police and crime commissioner should be involved or interested in education. We know that children who are permanently excluded from school are more likely to enter the justice system.
We know that young people have a genuinely short time-window in which we as adults can help them. If we are interested in prevention and early intervention, the getting involved before anything goes wrong rather than only dealing with people and events after something’s happened then, like Sam Seaborn, I believe education and schools are the silver bullet. Victor Hugo’s famous quote that, ‘he who opens a school door, closes a prison’ is just as insightful today as it was when he said it. The idea that if we get education and our schools right, that we then won’t need our prisons is a powerful message for the continued motivation for reforming education and for the increasing involvement of our police and crime commissioners in building that momentum. In Northamptonshire we are building a programme of intervention and prevention under the banner of Safest Generation because that’s our ambition. Our work is worth a look.