Update: 24 October 2013
What are ‘free schools’ ‘free’ from – local authorities or the curriculum?
21 October 2013
The latest twist in the free schools sideshow has pitted Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg against Conservative ministers.
Following recent high profile controversies involving free schools, Nick Clegg has said the schools should employ only qualified teachers and adhere to the national curriculum. Conservative education minister Elizabeth Truss, however, rejected calls for tighter controls on free schools.
In a speech on Thursday, Mr Clegg will, it has been reported, ask: “What’s the point of having a national curriculum if only a few schools have to teach it?” – a point raised by Voice on a number of occasions:
“As we’ve said before, what’s the point of a national curriculum if academies don’t have to follow it? Or is the fact that schools have been reluctant to depart from it an indication that it is necessary, after all? The Government wants schools to have ‘greater freedom over the curriculum’ but do they want it?“
If academies don’t have to follow the National Curriculum, how “free” would “free schools” be if they didn’t have a freedom that academies have?
The Deputy Prime Minister told Sky News that he was a ‘supporter’ of free schools, but his concern was about maintaining standards.
Before the election, Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather described the Conservatives’ free schools policy as a gimmick. However, when she became Minister of State for Children and Families, she found that “Coalition inevitably means you don’t get everything you want” and she had to toe the Coalition line. Reshuffled out of her ministerial post, she released a statement to announce she would not contest the 2015 general election, saying her decision was “to do with some [largely unspecified] aspects of government policy”.
If the Coalition is tying itself in knots over free schools, Labour is swaying precariously on the fence. New shadow education spokesperson Tristram Hunt had previously described free schools as a “vanity project for yummy mummies” – a statement which he now claims to “regret”. Labour are reported as saying it’s not a change in policy, but ” a change of heart” for the new shadow education secretary – a “change of heart” that coincides with his new job! His party’s current view is that Labour would not open new free schools “along the Michael Gove model”, but that the bulk of existing free schools would be kept open as the party wants to “keep the good free schools”. He has also said that he wants to see more “parent-led academies” run by social entrepreneurs and able to set their own curriculum – but only in areas of need.
So, it seems that, under Labour, free schools would be free but some free schools would be more free than others.
As we commented in “Are schools being forced to be free?“:
“The schools are not ‘free’ because they cannot be if a government has a sense of society, as this one claims to do. The activities of one school are bound to impact on another and to some extent on the wider community too. Not surprisingly therefore, free schools are accountable to the centre. Here are some of the constraints outlined on the Department of Education website. Groups running free schools cannot make a profit. They will be subject to the same Ofsted inspections as all state schools and will be expected to maintain the same rigorous standards. The admissions arrangements must be fair and transparent. Free schools are expected to be open to pupils of all abilities from the area and cannot be academically selective.”
- the motives of those setting them up;
- the impact of free schools in terms of their long-term funding and viability and their potential effects on other schools;
- their cost to the public purse;
- the risks of a “buffet approach” to education provision causing chaos and confusion for parents, admissions policies, infrastructure planning, employers, and staff recruitment and retention;
- the risks of conducting an ideological experiment on children’s education; and free schools employing unqualified teachers.
As we have pointed out, how do you raise teaching standards while encouraging the employment of unqualified teachers? If QTS “will remain the highly-respected professional status for teachers” and “a formal set of skills and qualities required to be an effective teacher”, why allow some to teach without it?
Do let us know your thoughts.
The Department for Education (DfE)