Nick Clegg announces radical education proposals for England

Today’s the day when the education policy paper going to our Harrogate conference is released to the media.

The official news release doesn’t hold back on the scale of the challenge or the ambitions for the policies:

Nick Clegg announced radical new education policies to fix inequalities in Britain’s ‘class-based education system.’

The plans would narrow the gap between the state and private sector, raising funding for the most disadvantaged pupils to private school levels and delivering extra money to cut infant class sizes to 15.

The proposals will reverse decades of standardisation and centralisation. In its place, more freedoms would be granted to schools, and power would be devolved from national government to local authorities and to an independent Educational Standards Authority.

The measures will be debated at the Liberal Democrats’ spring conference alongside policies for childcare and higher education, placing children and social mobility at the heart of the party’s message to voters.

You can read about the details over on the party website. The paper has also been heavily covered in The Guardian (along with Radio 4’s Today*, 5 Live’s breakfast show, BBC breakfast and several regional radio station).

* UPDATE: Himmelgarten Cafe has a write-up of this appearance.
UPDATE 2: Daily Telegraph’s write-up is here.

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This entry was posted in News and Party policy and internal matters.


  • OK, so as usual the main thrust of an election campaign will be a policy which won’t apply to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland…

    Of more concern is the apparent comment to the Guardian that this will rank higher than PR in negotiations with any party over a coalition. I hope this doesn’t mean he’ll ditch it – going into a coalition with the Tories would be bad enough (and possibly fatal for the party,) doing it without PR would surely just be suicide?

  • Can anyone explain – are these “Sponsor Managed Schools” the same as the “free schools” Nick Clegg proposed just over a year ago?

    If so, the requirement that they would have to be “commissioned” by local authorities seems to represent quite a shift from the original idea that they could be established by anyone who had been “independently assessed for their expertise, with no ministerial involvement”.

  • Yes, but is this the upshot of Nick Clegg’s “free schools” idea, or has that been dropped?

  • I think that this looks brilliant. A really exciting policy. Let’s get out there and stick it on a Focus leaflet.

  • “Anonymous’s concern is mine.”

    Actually, it was more of a hope than a concern.

    Clegg’s original ideas sounded too much like “anyone will be able to start up a school and automatically receive state funding” for my liking.

    I don’t believe the private sector have the right to receive taxpayers’ money. I believe what happens to taxpayers’ money should be decided by the elected representatives of taxpayers.

  • Has this document been released only to the media, or is there any way of members of the public obtaining a copy?

  • In case anyone is interested, a link has now been added to the policy document itself:

  • David Allen 6th Feb '09 - 11:47pm

    A “free” school that is funded by the state is a contradiction in terms. Some outside body must be charged with oversight responsibilities to ensure that public money is well spent. Otherwise there will be schools run by embezzlers and schools which just can;t be bothered to try to do a good job. The choices are oversight by Whitehall, oversight by local authority, oversight by quango, or (the way things are going) oversight by Tesco!

    Clegg now seems to have plumped for the local authority. I think that’s a step forward. It gets rid of the unrealism of the “free” school idea.

    But MatGB’s cautionary tale shows that localism isn’t the panacea some of us think. Shock horror, the local authority can be every bit as misguided as Whitehall. The glories of letting a thousand flowers bloom do rather lose their appeal when the postcode lottery jumps up and hits you, personally, in the teeth. Food for thought….

  • David Allen 7th Feb '09 - 10:31pm


    Parent should have more power, I agree, but can they take responsibility for the proper expenditure of public funds? What if they, in cahoots with staff, inflate their claim on public funds, by methods either within or outside the law? Who is going to maintain independent oversight and stop any abuses?

    While we’re about it, would we propose to let parents impose academic selection? Or to start charging top-up fees? Or declare that the local council estate is outside catchment? Or exclude large numbers of “troublemakers”, while refusing to take in anyone excluded by neighbouring schools?

    Local authorities ain’t perfect, but they’re better than jungle law.

  • Getting back to the policy paper, I should be interested to hear the reactions of those who were so enthusiastic about “free schools” a year ago. Do they think this measures up to what Nick Clegg proposed then?

    The state’s role (and the state must surely include local as well as national government) was to be limited to ensuring that there was no (academic) selection and disbursing the money. Anyone suitable was going to be allowed to set up schools and receive state funding, and their suitability was to be assessed by a new body independent of politicians.

    The proposal in the policy document seems to be entirely different. The “Sponsor Managed Schools” are presented primarily as a means of bringing “Academies” back under the control of local authorities. The only circumstances in which new “Sponsor Managed” schools will be set up seem to be (1) if a school is going to close and someone is prepared to take on the running of it and (2) if the local authority decides a new school is needed and decides to put its running out to tender. The local authority will judge the suitability of applicants to run a school. The capital costs will be paid by the local authority and the school will remain its property.

    Of course, it may be that these “Sponsor Managed Schools” are actually something quite separate from the “free schools” we heard so much about last year. I asked that question above, and nobody seemed to know the answer. But if that’s the case, what on earth has happened to the “free schools”? Why is Nick Clegg’s first substantial policy initiative as leader completely absent from the party’s education polciy, a year down the line?

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