Labour's new line on free schools
14 Nov 2011
It's always nice to have your own words re-quoted, so thank you to Labour's new Shadow Schools Secretary, Stephen Twigg, for quoting from my last Guardian column -- even if he did describe me as the 'veteran' education correspondent (I’ll try to take it as a compliment).
Stephen was quoting my description of the way Michael Gove's policy on academies and free schools was, effectively, 'nationalising' education, since these schools are wholly-funded and regulated by central government.
Setting out his own thoughts on the way ahead for free schools, Twigg suggested following the model of the Co-op schools. For Labour, he said, the test of free schools will be that:
- they should not be imposed
- they should not take money from other schools
- they should close the attainment gap between rich and poor
Clearly free schools will be a tricky policy issue for Labour, as they are likely to be well entrenched by the next election. Hence the interesting, if subtle, shift set out here.
Here's an excerpt from his recent speech:
'EduCo-op trust schools will be part of the answer to this democratic deficit. The numbers of trust schools are growing - from 100 pilots in 2008, to over 200 by early next year.
There is a need for more research into the impact of these schools, but the early results are encouraging. Just like the original academies, co-op trust schools have been set up in some of the toughest communities in England.
With support from the Co-operative Schools Society, such schools can access the kind of support services which their local authority may no longer provide, but in a way that provides services which can be designed directly by the users from the bottom up
The schools can get best value for money through joint purchasing arrangements, an environment in which skills swaps can be facilitated, access to new funding through the charitable status of the trust and greater links with the local community.
Take Cornwall, which has a number of small schools - many fewer than 120 pupils - that want to protect and preserve their unique character. They are close to becoming the first local authority to have the majority of schools come together to form a co-operative trust across the county to ensure decisions are made by the local community.
As well as promoting parents and teachers as active citizens, the co-operative model can encourage pupils to become engaged in shaping their own destinies.The co-operative movement is clearly experiencing a renaissance.
And that is why I will put evidence at the heart of Labour's education policies.
So we have set specific tests for free schools. We oppose the imposition of such schools, and the cuts to other schools budgets to fund them. But we want to see good schools that extend opportunities, particularly in deprived areas, drive up standards in their localities, and close the attainment gap between children from rich and poor backgrounds. That is the basis on which we will assess free schools.'