Free schools: what should the party’s policy be in 2015?

An empty classroomNews that the National Autistic Society is planning to set up a free school highlights an impending policy dilemma. Currently, the party’s policy is officially one of opposition to free schools. However if, by the time of the 2015 general election, free schools started by popular and worthy organisations such as the National Autistic Society are up and running, would it be either sensible education policy or practical politics simply to say, ‘we don’t like free schools; they have got to go’?

A different option would be to extend what the party’s ministers have been doing in government. Faced with a Coalition Agreement that of course includes many Conservative policies, one of which is free schools, ministers have taken the attitude, ‘well, if we’ve got to have them, here are some ways to make the policy better…’.

For example, last year Nick Clegg said:

Let me be clear what I want to see from free schools. I want them to be available to the whole community – open to all children and not just the privileged few. I want them to be part of a school system that releases opportunity, rather than entrenching it. They must not be the preserve of the privileged few – creaming off the best pupils while leaving the rest to fend for themselves. Causing problems for and draining resources from other nearby schools…

Michael Gove will be making decisions on the second wave over the coming weeks. I want to see all of them in poorer neighbourhoods. Or in areas crying out for more school places.

We are also taking unprecedented steps to make sure disadvantaged pupils actually get into these schools. Along with academies, free schools will, for the first time, be able to give them special priority in their admissions.

The reference to areas of school place shortages is particularly significant, as there is a small but growing number of Liberal Democrat councillors and campaigners in such areas who are calling for free schools to provide much needed extra places. Faced with councils not responding to school place needs in their communities, free schools can look an attractive answer to town hall intransigence. That too makes it harder to envisage a successful and sensible 2015 manifesto policy of simple opposition to free schools.

The third option, the least glorious but one that has a political heritage across all three parties, is simply to say that whatever has happened by 2015 should be kept, but nothing more nor less. It is the classic small-c conservative response to something happening that you don’t like: you neither want more, nor will you undo it. (Think of how many people take this approach to grammar schools – opposing expansion but not wanting or willing to force reductions.)

All of these courses have disadvantages, and all are influenced by what you think of the merit of free schools in the first place. So over to the comments thread: what do you think the Liberal Democrat policy in 2015 should be?

* Mark Pack has written 101 Ways To Win An Election and produces a monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

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59 Comments

  • There’s nothing inherently wrong with free schools… some will do brilliant things and some will do terrible things, that’s the nature of freedom.

    The Liberal Democrat’s position at the next election should be as we grow to pull money out of benefits and health and invest in education. If schools are properly funded and parents are properly informed and have choices then we’ll see a much better system.

  • “The reference to areas of school place shortages is particularly significant, as there is a small but growing number of Liberal Democrat councillors and campaigners in such areas who are calling for free schools to provide much needed extra places. Faced with councils not responding to school place needs in their communities, free schools can look an attractive answer to town hall intransigence.”

    Perhaps someone “in the know” can explain this to me. We have a system that encourages shortages and rationing; popular schools draw in families with school-age children which leads to increases in house prices in the school’s catchment area. It encourages homgenisation around the popular schools. Popular schools cannot expand indefinitely.

  • @Tommy
    “some will do brilliant things and some will do terrible things, that’s the nature of freedom.”

    Which is fine in some areas but there needs to be enough checks and balances in place to ensure that no child’s education is “terrible”. Freedom should not be allow to diminish a child’s future, and that is the potential price of a poorly thought through education policy..

  • Andrew Suffield 12th Apr '12 - 11:56am

    Freedom should not be allow to diminish a child’s future

    The problem with this statement is that it simultaneously means “freedom should not be allowed to enhance a child’s future”, since they’re really the same thing seen from different perspectives.

    Liberalism is hard sometimes.

  • @Andrew Suffield
    There are always areas where unfettered freedom is not acceptable. Remember the context of my words were in relation to schools being allowed to do terrible things, not doing less well than another. Try campaigning on “We want to give schools the ability to do terrible things”. I am not anti freedom within education, but there needs to be proper controls, and certainly enough that a child’s future is not put at undue risk.

    We have the freedom to drive our cars but still need a test and are obliged to keep within the rules…

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Apr '12 - 12:11pm

    Sorry but I believe in local democracy and in schools having to be locally accountable. This is why we had local authorities providing services to schools and local councillors on governing bodies.

    Free schools are nothing but a way of allowing middle class parents to put their children into schools away from more socially disadvantaged children. A few disadvantaged children are admitted to an overwhelmingly middle class school? This is a fig leaf for what’s really going on in Gove’s so-called ‘revolution.’
    Education policy under Michael Gove spells disaster for local communities, and in the long term, parental choice for the many, not the privileged few.

  • I agree with Nick

  • Geoffrey Payne 12th Apr '12 - 12:47pm

    I think that the lack of democratic accountability of Free Schools and Academies is fundamentally what is wrong with this system. We are supposed to believe in locallism, but the news recently of Michael Gove sacking the board of governors at a Harringey school that is being turned into an academy shows that the gentleman in Whitehall is supposed to know best.
    As far as Free Schools are concerned, I think there is a natural bias in the system that will favour those with sharp elbows, namely the middle class. That matters of course if what you want is social mobility. I understand that the Lib Dems are trying to put in place policies to remove that bias. I am not clear what those policies are, but by 2015 I imagine we will find out how successful the Lib Dems have been in trying to do this. I think they have made life hard for themselves trying to do this in this way (whilst the party as a whole overwhelmingly rejected the policy, Nick Clegg and David Laws always believed in it), if I were in charge of LDV I would ask David Laws or Sarah Teather to write an article explaining how is part of the education policy will work.

  • I think our policy should be that nearly every school be made into a free school, but with an added reform of local supervision and auditing of said schools. Free schools as currently constituted (as a pet project of central government) enjoy an alarming institutional advantage over usual community schools. We should seek to eradicate that unfair advantage by universalising (and reforming) the free school programme. Just MHO.

  • Steve Way – You have to also consider that the are plenty of children currenty whose education is “terrible” in school that do not have the freedoms of free schools.

  • Helen Tedcastle – You say you believe in local democracy but I think you mean to say that you believe in local representative democracy. Free school are a direct democracy being accountable directly to local communities and parents of their pupils.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Apr '12 - 1:07pm

    I agree with Geoffrey Payne. Localism and that includes local democracy is at the heart of Liberalism (or I thoought it was, pre-coalition).

    I would also like some in the leadership to write an article in Lib Dem News, for instance, explaining why they have taken the party away from its own policies and the Coalition Agreement in signing up for the dismantling of locally accountable schooling in this country.
    I would also like to know the reasons why they have stayed quiet on wholesale curriculum change: using more sticks to drive this change through, using the blunt instrument of the league-tables; and why they have stood by and allowed the daily denigration of hard-working teachers, from the Department for Education Press Office.

  • @Alex Agius
    “You have to also consider that the are plenty of children currenty whose education is “terrible” in school that do not have the freedoms of free schools.”

    Absolutely, but you do not solve one problem by allowing it to happen again, you ensure that any future system removes or reduces that potential. All that is needed is a suitable set of controls…

  • David Allen 12th Apr '12 - 1:13pm

    “Michael Gove will be making decisions on the second wave over the coming weeks. I want to see all of them in poorer neighbourhoods. Or in areas crying out for more school places.”

    Well now, the areas crying out for more school places will overwhelmingly be the newly built estates of executive housing, won’t they? So here’s a translation of Nick’s words:

    “I want to see all of them in poorer neighbourhoods, or alternatively, in richer neighbourhoods.”

  • Peter Watson 12th Apr '12 - 1:13pm

    I think that this is representative of a wider issue,
    It is quite conceivable that LDs will be in coalition with Labour after 2015.
    Collective cabinet responsibility means that we will smile publicly (while maybe crossing fingers behind our backs and arguing in private) much as we do now, while dismantling and reversing our current policies, including education reforms, health reforms, etc..
    Then in 2020 – what will we actually stand for?

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Apr '12 - 1:15pm

    “Free school are a direct democracy being accountable directly to local communities and parents of their pupils.”

    Alex – I beg to disagree. Free Schools are now no longer accountable to their local communities but to the Secretary of State himself, Mr Michael Gove.
    As a Liberal and a Democrat, I believe there is nothing truly free about a ‘Free School’ except that it satisifies the parents with the sharpest elbows, and loudest voices.
    Therefore,in my view, it is detrimental long term to the common good of the local communities schools are meant to serve.

  • Peter Watson 12th Apr '12 - 1:21pm

    I agree with Helen.

  • @Sara Bedford
    “There are already enough schools that diminish a child’s prospects.”

    I do not disagree, but if you read the context of my comments from the first one you will see I am referring to the ability to perform “Terribly” being accepted as a facet of the free schools system. Just because that is currently possible does not mean that new schools should have the ability to drift to this level. What is needed is a set of clearly defined standards and a regulator with teeth to enforce them. Schools are then free to improve but are not allowed to fail.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Apr '12 - 1:37pm

    Quote David Allen: “I want to see all of them in poorer neighbourhoods, or alternatively, in richer neighbourhoods.”

    I agree David. Nick seems to have bought Gove’s argument that true freedom is a higher good without the counter-balancing value of equality and fairness; and that is the way to drive up standards in schools for the many not the few.

    However, as was demonstrated by the Tories’ last attempt at this back in John Major’s government, it simply entailed that resources, good teachers and middle class children congregated in one school; leaving others outside the Grant-maintained system, with less.

    Is this Liberal and Democratic?

  • I agree with Sara

  • Paul Holmes 12th Apr '12 - 2:02pm

    The reality of Free Schools -as opposed to Liberal theorising – is made absolutely clear by the Swedish Government’s own research into their own 15 year old experiment with this trojan horse. They found that Free Schools had mainly been introduced and made use of in middle class areas and that they had increased racial and social segregation -exactly as is already being seen in the first wave of Free Schools in the UK. There has also been a decline in overall Swedish academic performance over the last 15 years -not the increase that Fee Schools are supposed to stimulate.

    The profit making Free School I visited in Stockholm (and the Tories are clear that profit making is the next step they want to see) made its profit by paying teachers less and not providing expensive facilities such as science labs, domestic science facilities (cookery to old people like me!) or gym/sports facilities of any kind. They were based in an unconverted former office block (and the same suggestion has already been made in the UK).

    In the USA Charter Schools are the Free School equivalent and the academic research there shows that roughly speaking one third do worse, a third the same and a third better than their counterparts in the state sector. In other words no overall difference at all but at greater financial cost.The two that I visited in New York, in Harlem, were awful to my eyes (as a former teacher and parent of 3 now adult children) although probably an improvement on neighbouring inner city ‘ghetto’ schools. I say probably because I also visited two mainstream inner city schools in New York -one in a very poor Hispanic neighbourhood – and would far rather have sent my children there than to the Charter schools. Any comparison to US examples has to remember the massive polarisation in school provision (as in health care) which is far more extreme than in the UK.

    Back in the UK the evidence was clear that mainstream school improvement programmes such as Excellence in Cities and London Challenge was bringing about rapid improvement across the board but that did not fit with New Labour’s ideological approach so they went down the Academy route instead.Compare the more expensive Academies with similar schools in the mainstream system and you see that the rate of improvement is no better in Academies than in the mainstream schools.

    Regrettably however education policy in all 3 parties is no longer made on the basis of evidence but on the basis variously of ideology and of pandering to Daily Mail headlines.

  • Helen Tedcastle 12th Apr '12 - 2:04pm

    Quoting Sara Bedford: ” My local schools are not ‘locally accountable’ in any way at the moment. We have no councillors belonging to the party which runs the LEA and therefore local people have little influence. I say that as a parent, governor and councillor.”

    I am not sure what you mean exactly by the above statement. Surely the way to remedy the situation is to fight a local campaign to get local councillors to have greater input into local schools and reflect the needs of their community.

    That is local democracy, much beloved of Liberal Democrats.

    Under Gove, there is no way that local community leaders will have any say, under the Free School or Academy system.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 12th Apr '12 - 2:05pm

    I agree with Helen Tedcastle and Geoffrey Payne.

    “Free schools” were part of the price which Liberal Democrats paid for being in coalition. The price was too high.

  • Peter Watson 12th Apr '12 - 4:57pm

    @Toby
    How do you propose to help the untalented disadvantaged youngsters, especially if their more capable peers and role models have gone elsewhere?

    Untalented upper and middle-class kids will have parents who can afford to pay for extra tuition to get through the 11+ or any other form of selection.
    Untalented upper and middle-class kids will live in homes near to free schools so won’t be disadvantaged by the need to commute.
    Untalented upper and middle-class kids won’t be faced at a young age with the prospect of moving away from their friends and siblings.
    Untalented upper and middle-class kids will be able to afford the uniforms, computers, school trips, out-of-school activities, etc. required.

    The current education system is far from ideal, but I don’t see how it is improved by fragmenting it with the introduction of a few schools which pander to groups with narrow interests and which can undemocratically and illiberally distort the provision of schooling for the wider population around them.

  • Helen Flynn 12th Apr '12 - 5:15pm

    I cannot see the whole free school and academy road train as anything other than a journey back in time. We will in effect be entering almost a pre-1944 world, where there are wide differences in both what children are taught and a stratification of the different types of schools that different types (and I mean socio-economic groups here) of children attend.

    One local head I know got it right when he said that Gove is introducing chaos into the system to see how it all turns out.

    Though one thing is for certain, Gove uses attainment and raising standards as the raison d’être of academies and free schools as a diversionary ploy to reduce the size of the state and ultimately reduce spending on education. Now I am not a statist, but, going back to results and attainment, it is interesting to note that those countries who continue to top the league tables have a highly developed state system with high public investment and a high level of professionalisation of teachers, with a highly responsive–and strategic–local level.

    Pretty soon in this country, you won’t need to be a qualified teacher to teach in free schools and academies; schools will be able to use curricular freedoms to teach creationism and other nonsense; and the greatest centralisation of powers to the Secretary of State for Education we have ever seen will see him dangling all these independent state schools from the end of his fingers as he prescribes what they can have money for and the measures through which they should be held to account. I wonder how much they will relish “autonomy” then?

    Going back to free schools, the main thing we should be worried about, surely, is whether there is any evidence that children get a good, well-rounded education in them, with a suitable range of facilities and surroundings that they can explore and use to further their personal development. Is there compelling evidence from anywhere that free schools provide this? And I don’t mean cherry-picked evidence, but solid evidence gathered from looking at this issue holistically–not tailored to suit someone’s ideological views.

  • Given that the majority of the electorate are middle class I do not think it wise to attack free schools on the basis that the middle classes benefit from them.

  • paul miller 12th Apr '12 - 7:47pm

    this is a no brainer. helen tedcastle is spot on and we all know it. its a way for nice ,predominately middle class , parents to get their kids into nice schools,away from those rough kids . i don’t blame them ,i would probably do the same if i had kids but its the hypocrisy of parents and politicians pretending its otherwise. the sight of people who don’t have a religious bone in their body suddenly pretending to be devout roman catholics for example to get their kids into a nice school is nauseating. we’ll have an american style expansion in gated communities next. we’re bringing in apartheid by the back door i fear.

  • I loathe free schools, the cynical rebranding of existing schools as academies, the annual erosion of standards under grade inflation and I am proud that my kids are not and will not be schooled in a middle class bubble. Kids are over observed and measured and under taught – my kid’s primary school teacher spends 50% of her time in class recording progress the children! 50%! It is complete lunacy. Oh how I wish we were running education rather than oddball Gove.

  • Paul Pettinger 12th Apr '12 - 11:27pm

    I agree with Helen Tedcatle, Paul Holmes & Helen Flynn.

    Too much is made of Free Schools; they are just Academy schools, and we should invest time in thinking about what we do about the Academy sector as a whole. A Lib Dem response should be to give more influence back to local authorities.

    One power that I hope would be uncontroversial to repatriate is making local authorities the admissions authority for all local state funded schools. If Academies really are open to all then I don’t see the arguments as to why they should control their admissions. I would also let local authorities select a proportion of the governors in all local state funded schools, and allow them to take over all the local funding agreements between the DfE and Academy Trusts/ sponsors.

  • Paul Pettinger 12th Apr '12 - 11:45pm

    I’d also make Academies have to teach to a less prescriptive National Curriculum. As Helen F points about above, Academies can teach creationism. Maintained schools only can’t because it goes against the National Curriculum. And while we are on the topic of school age Education, we should seek to finally do away with compulsory collective worship.

  • Peter Watson 12th Apr '12 - 11:53pm

    @Richard
    I suspect we all have a slightly different idea of what “middle class” means. I know that my own varies continually and I often find myself using it in a pejorative way despite being staunchly middle-class by any normal definition of the term :-)
    FWIW my own classification of “middle-class” is based upon a vague set of values rather than income, and in the context of free schools, I suspect that Toby Young personifies the group of people we mean.

    I also have a non-class objection to free schools, and that is the fear that religious groups might exploit them as a way of establishing schools with restrictive entry, no LEA oversight, and the freedom to ignore the national curriculum. This is not BNP-style paranoia about fundamental islamism: I am equally concerned about fundamental christians refusing to teach evolution or atheists dismissing the importance of religion.
    I believe that state-funded education should be about providing equal opportunities for all, and integrating all parts of society. I believe that the basis of free schools is in direct conflict with this.

  • Peter Watson 13th Apr '12 - 12:21am

    EIther we have a national curriculum or we don’t. That is a separate debate, but I believe it should be an open one.
    If we allow some schools to opt out, then by default we no longer have a national curriculum without the issue having been explored properly and suitable alternatives considered.
    If a free school (or any school) can ignore the national curriculum, then what will it teach in its place? What nationally recognised qualifications will be availab le to its pupils at the end of their studies? What will be the effect on children who have to change schools, e.g. if their parents move?
    Whilst I can see the advantage of offering children different routes through the education system (e.g. vocational, academic, etc.) I do not think this is best served by classifying and placing them into independent specialist/restrictive schools at the age of eleven. My ideal system would involve a local multi-school network, based upon co-operation not competition, coordinated by some form of LEA; not part-filled independent schools fighting in an education “market” for pupils (but not the difficult ones).

  • if free schools fail, in the sense of being unpopular, then the decision is easy.
    If free schools are successful, in the sense of being more oversubscribed and other schools in the area, then it seems to me that we would have to have very strong evidence that they were harmful in some way before we opposed them. To oppose them without that evidence would be to say that we, elected politicians and political hacks, know more about what is best for individual children than do their parents. that seems to me a very odd position for a liberal to find themselves in.

  • Paul McKeown 13th Apr '12 - 1:26am

    What Tim Leunig said. If they are unpopular, get rid. If they are popular, build more.

    btw. Peter Watson said LDs might be in coalition with Lab post 2015, who will undo everything the present coalition has done. Err… will they ‘eckers like! They’ll moan, whinge, scream, bellow, caterwaul and froth about the Free Schools up to election day 2015, and then, if in government, their Education Secretary will carry on where Gove left off, happy not to have taken any of the brickbats. Academies???

  • Thanks Paul Holmes & Helen Flynn. Spot on. This is because they understand education.There is the ‘small’ matter of Free Schools creating surplus places to the detriment of other schools in the locality i.e. reducing numbersand hence funding but hey! the Toby Youngs of this world are being looked after. By the way can someone define precicely the nature of the ‘freedoms’ gained from Councils?

  • Rebecca Hanson 13th Apr '12 - 8:04am

    The usual things in these policy situations is that schools which have opened under one regime become part of the new status quo. The new government starts its own policy. The key policy different the LDs need to make is to end the idea that it is to coherent and efficient to plan education one school/pressure group at a time. There needs to be coherent local planning and this is the key policy shift which needs to take place. Whether the schools which are opened according to a consulted plan are LA schools or free schools is less important.

    Contributors to this forum with an interest in current education policy may be interested to have a look at the posts on the ‘Local Schools Network’ over the last couple of weeks. There used to be quite a few people who posted on there in support of Michael Gove. Now there is only one extremely vociferous Gove supporter posting about running purges on teachers and occasionally showing strong views on Palestine. He’s posting under the name of Ricky Tarr (the hard man off ‘Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’) and I’d be very grateful for some wider perspectives on what is going on. If you wish to ask me any questions I’m happy to answer them here, there or through linkedin.com.

  • Peter Watson 13th Apr '12 - 12:08pm

    @Simon
    Middle-class parents (like myself) will always do the best we can for our children’s education. This is definitely a very good thing.
    What is a bad thing is creating an educational system that penalises children unfortunate enough not to be born into such families and who are not growing up within an aspirational peer group; children whose parents do not have the time, the resources or the capability to establish exclusive schools.
    I think that you are right to point out that those of us opposed to free schools risk alienating allies if we use “middle-class” as a lazy short-hand way to identify a particular group of people who are associated with free schools (even if they do happen to be middle-class people espousing very middle-class values).
    I object to free schools because they pander to small special interest groups, they set schools in competition with each other, and I believe they will prevent coordination and cooperation between schools to best integrate and serve local communities.

  • Rebecca Hanson 13th Apr '12 - 12:20pm

    The idea that local planning is not needed is a fantasy which which is grounded in no coherent justification and contradicts reality. Gove has created a fantasy of spin to convince people that free markets work in education. They don’t because the ‘market’ for education is limited by issues of place, the requirement for full coverage and the effect of altruism in provision.

    The kind of free market policies currently being followed were developed for growth markets in education with no requirement for full coverage or provision for the most vulnerable. They are a complete and utter mess.

  • Geoffrey Payne 13th Apr '12 - 1:01pm

    @simonmcgrath I wasn’t commenting on whether it was a good school or not. The point I was making was that it was the gentleman in Whitehall, Michael Gove who is deciding on who the board of governors should be. In my book that amounts to central government dictats, the opposite of what Lib Dems believe in.
    @TimLeunig your “lack of evidence” ignores the contribution made by Paul Holmes who points to the failures in the Swedish policy.

  • David Allen 13th Apr '12 - 1:15pm

    The national curriculum debate is interesting. On the one hand, we have a national curriculum which, alongside commercial teaching schemes which prescribe on a daily basis precisely what lesson plan the teacher shall follow irrespective of what actually happens to be working or not working for a particular class of kids, becomes ever more prescriptive and regimented. A bog standard education for the bog standard comprehensive. Then on the other hand, along comes the utopia of free schooling. Teachers released from the oppressive national curriculum, liberated from conformity, given the freedom to teach and inspire, etcetera etctetera.

    What do we call this? A two tier education system, with rising inequality deliberately designed and built in!

  • Peter Watson 13th Apr '12 - 4:18pm

    David might have been sarcastic in his effusive praise of schools free from the shackles of the national curriculum: it’s hard to tell from a forum posting. I’m unclear how much flexibility there would really be as schools prepare their children for the same national qualifications.
    The threat of a two-tier system is real though, but it’s not obvious that free schools will always be in the upper tier with the prospect of unqualified teachers promoting creationism, small schools run by well-meaning parents trying to take on the might of the teacher’s unions over pay and conditions, schools housed in buildings unsuited for the purpose, free schools abandoned by the enthusiastic founders once their own offspring have moved on, the threat of a new government removing any favourable funding arrangements, the possibility that the whole scheme will simply turn out to be a bad idea, etc.
    I also suspect that economies of scale mean that we will see the running of these schools passed off to businesses that will run chains of schools around the country and bring new layers of bureaucracy and profit-taking into the education system.

  • Rebecca Hanson 13th Apr '12 - 5:07pm

    I think that schools should be obliged to contribute a percentage of their funding to structures of local organisation over which they have control but to which they are also subjugated in their duty to provide for all students. The would need to be substantial interaction with other childrens’ services. and wider council services. Isn’t this why Schools’ Councils were set up?

    Beyond that schools could also choose to be part of one or more chains which may provide them with services or support for management and governors . The decision regarding whether or not a school should be part of one or more chains would need to be made by the local community.

    I’ve heard some worrying things about the extent to which Free Schools are Academies are tied in to their sponsor chains. Has anyone scrutinised this in detail? Is it possible to return control to the school community or it is not?

    Schools councils would need substantial additional expertise when they carried out reviews of provision and undertook planning exercises, not least because these issues are so inherently political the quality of the logic which justifies whichever decision is made must be very robust and there must be full public consultation.

    The question then arises – what if parents are not happy? Where do they go if there is not a consultation in progress?
    They should try the school, the governors and the Schools Council. Ofsted should be brought in line with the best standards or other regulators and the law and it should provide clearly defined minimum standards parents can expect. If a parent believe that one of these standards is being violated and above lines of solution did not work, they should be able to call on the regulator to help.

  • David Allen 13th Apr '12 - 5:58pm

    Simon,

    I would prefer all schools to be given more flexibility in the way they teach, and to be discouraged from rather than encouraged toward the sausage machine approach, i.e. endless teaching to the test, SATS, higher and higher scores on more and more mechanical exams. None of which means that transfer of control from local to central government is a good thing.

  • Paul Pettinger 13th Apr '12 - 7:29pm

    Segregating children as they grow up is a really stupid idea; the choice agenda falls down when it comes to education. Mutual understanding is vital for a happy society, and I don’t see how Free Schools do anything but undermine community cohesion. I thought Lib Dems cared about local communities and wanted them to be harmonious, not for the state to help groups create social silos for their children!

  • Rebecca Hanson 14th Apr '12 - 8:58am

    Dave Allen,

    Precisely.

    The main obstacles to this flexibility are:

    Ofsted – which needs to be brought in line with the law and best practice to which it is obliged and which is used by other other best inspectors/regulators instead of being used as a political whipping dog.

    Narrow high stakes assessment – for which emerging tracking infrastructures which combine formative and summative assessment with other existing structures of student and school monitoring are the best way forward.

    However the free schools and academies policies could create such a mess that all this pales into insignificance so we do need to consider how to create a coherent way forward for the infrastructure and planning of education.

  • Helen Tedcastle 14th Apr '12 - 11:37am

    I agree with Paul Holmes, David Allen and Peter Watson.

    Let me put it this way: if we were not in a coalition with the Tories and with the chief cheer-leader for Rupert Murdoch’s philosophy , Michael Gove, the Lib Dems would never have supported what is going on with schools policy – and – it should never have been allowed to get as far as it has.
    A two-tier system is being fashioned in schooling and at university level, entirely at odds with our vision. Compare and contrast our policy of the Pupil Premium and Youth Contract with Gove’s policy of creating two-tier system of class segregation in schools. How is creating more free schools and academies in every town, going to liberate the bulk of most socially disadvantaged children, when they will remain mainly in the LEA system?
    Answer: Gove’s policy will create new barriers for these children while advantaging the pushy parents and their offspring and a few lucky tokenist, disadvantaged, bright children.

  • Peter Watson 17th Apr '12 - 10:13am

    It’s a two-tier system if existing schools are disadvantaged by the diversion of resources to free schools.
    I have yet to hear a defence of free schools based upon what the system would look like if every school was a free school.

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  • User AvatarRichard Dean 25th Apr - 12:40am
    @jedibeeftrix. Have you really descended to this? Your comments always used to be interesting and challenging!
  • User AvatarRichard Dean 25th Apr - 12:37am
    There'll always be crises. It's a fact of life. Politics is the art of managing them and learning from them, and learning is what is...
  • User AvatarDavid Allen 25th Apr - 12:23am
    Matthew Huntbach, If you read very carefully, you will find that Alex Marsh did not write a "flood of propaganda which insists that the pre-merger...
  • User Avatarjedibeeftrix 25th Apr - 12:06am
    the article, and the degree of division in the comments makes me lol. but at least the division represents a degree of sanity returning to...
  • User AvatarRay 24th Apr - 11:54pm
    There should be no bullying down to the "normal and harmless" homosexuality.
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