Nick Clegg pledges parental guarantee to tackle poor standards in free schools

Clegg WatfordThe Independent on Sunday today reports that Nick Clegg is to criticise Conservative policy on free schools. He will pledge a new parental guarantee in the 2015 Liberal Democrat election manifesto.

It makes no sense to me to have qualified teacher status if only a few schools have to employ qualified teachers.

What’s the point of having a national curriculum if only a few schools have to teach it? Let’s teach it in all our schools.

And what’s the point of having brilliant new food standards if only a few schools have to stick to the rules? Let’s have quality food in all our schools.

If the Lib Dems re-enter government, the guarantee will assure parents that their child will be taught by a qualified a teacher. The schools will have to follow the national curriculum and conform to national nutritional standards for school meals.

The problems with some free schools have come to national attention with the Al-Madinah Free School in Derby, which Ofsted has bluntly labelled as “dysfunctional”. A number of other schools have had problems, while many are striding ahead successfully. Even Labour has now pledged to introduce parent-led academies.

In a speech this week, Nick Clegg will back continued autonomy for schools. He will say that the freedom to innovate must be balanced with a requirement to meet core standards of teaching and care.

Clegg is expected to say:

We believe greater autonomy enables school leaders to take responsibility in those areas where they know what’s best for their pupils, while also giving them the freedom to innovate. But it shouldn’t surprise you if I say that, although we work well with the Conservatives, our two parties still have differences of opinion, some strongly held. Looking to the future, there are aspects of schools policy currently affected by the priorities of the Conservative Party which I would not want to see continue.

For example, while I want to give schools the space to innovate, I also believe every parent needs reassurance that the school their child attends, whatever its title or structure, meets certain core standards of teaching and care – a parental guarantee, if you like.

Parents don’t want ideology to get in the way of their children’s education. They don’t care about the latest political label attached to their child’s school. What they want, and expect, is that their children are taught by good teachers, get taught a core body of knowledge, and get a healthy meal every day. What’s the point of having a national curriculum if only a few schools have to teach it? Let’s teach it in all our schools. And what’s the point of having brilliant new food standards if only a few schools have to stick to the rules? Let’s have quality food in all our schools.

Diversity among schools, yes. But good universal standards all parents can rely on, too. And, frankly, it makes no sense to me to have qualified teacher status if only a few schools have to employ qualified teachers.

Other reports: Guardian, BBC, Telegraph, Daily Mail, Spectator.

See also: Clegg on free schools and National Curriculum: no more, no less than party policy. And that’s for better and worse.

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10 Comments

  • I agree with Clegg on this, however I would question the interpretation in this piece. He has not stated this is a red line for any future coalition therefore it does not assure parents that should the Lib Dems re-enter government children will be taught by a qualified teacher. He is saying it will be Lib Dem policy, and what will be argued for.

    Personally I’m happy for him to make it a red line, but it would be foolish to do so this far in advance of the general election.

  • jedibeeftrix 20th Oct '13 - 9:48am

    Steve, stick red lines on everything and they become worth nothing.

  • Eddie Sammon 20th Oct '13 - 9:50am

    I think a core standards guarantee sounds like a good compromise between those who want more teacher freedom and those who want less of it. I have been concerned about ideology getting in the way of schools with all parties wanting to teach about their pet heroes in history etc. I don’t think school food standards should such get such prominence though. The only question I ask is why is David Laws not doing this speech?

  • @Jedi
    Not what I said at all….
    The article implies that the Lib Dem Policy assures something it does not. Personally I would be happy for a red line ensuring qualified teaching staff, that is not that same as asking for red lines on everything.

  • Iain Watson of the BBC comments:
    “For three-and-a-half years, the Lib Dems have been part of a coalition that was committed to free schools.
    But some of these schools have had bad publicity recently. …”

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-24599458

    Enough said.

  • If Nick really didn’t like the Coalition’s free schools policy why did he vote for it?

  • Paul Kennedy 20th Oct '13 - 11:01am

    “Parents don’t want ideology to get in the way of their children’s education. They don’t care about the latest political label attached to their child’s school. What they want, and expect, is that their children are taught by good teachers, get taught a core body of knowledge, and get a healthy meal every day.” I couldn’t agree more.

    A good example for Nick of ideology at work is predatory uberGovian Tory Hammersmith & Fulham Council which is so keen on free schools that it wants to KNOCK DOWN a successful primary school to provide a site for a free school whose governors happen to include the wife of a Conservative MP and Minister. And has produced yet another sham consultation to support it, despite overwhelming opposition from parents at the school involved and from the community.

    http://hflibdems.org.uk/en/article/2013/733448/lib-dems-blast-sham-consultation-over-closing-local-primary-school

    http://www.saveoursulivan.org

  • David White 21st Oct '13 - 3:42pm

    It is difficult to understand why the LibDems ever supported Mr Gove’s Free Schools notion.

    The awful Gove has spent his time at DfE striving, with some success, to wreck our education system. With a mixture of Council Schools, Academies and Free Schools, the state/para-state system is now so disjointed that it will take a future government years to repair the damage.

    And all schools, whether private, semi-private, para-private or council controlled should be required to employ teachers with a professional qualification (eg: BEd or PGCE). This morning I heard, on R5, an unqualified teacher at Wellington College attempting to support her unqualified status. At best, she was semi-coherent!

    Ah yes, the public schools. Even when I attended what is now a member of the ‘Top Twenty’ price-rigging cartel of private schools, I disapproved of the nature of their accepted system. If public schools are to retain their charitable, tax advantageous status, they should be obliged to provide a high proportion of free places – 30-50%.

    OK, rant over! For now!

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