New Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt seems to be in the mood to change Labour’s free school policy, after speaking in an interview with Andrew Marr yesterday.
After his interview by Andrew Marr, Mr Hunt told a BBC journalist that, pending the outcome of David Blunkett’s review into local ‘oversight’ of schools, Labour will grant local authorities the power of veto over free schools in their respective boroughs. This means that the local authority decides whether a free school is allowed to open and what sort of school it would be.
If this is true, this is reminiscent of Ed Balls’ effort when he became Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families back in the Labour days (2007 he came in if I’m not mistaken). The only difference between now and then, however, is Mr Balls granted the power of veto over sponsored academies.
Good or bad? Well can you imagine a local authority allowing a group of parents and teachers to set up a free school anywhere near a failing school? I can’t. They would be scared stiff that even fewer parents would send their children to the failing school. Local authorities have to bail out under-subscribed schools so I can’t even imagine a Conservative controlled borough allowing free schools to open near them.
On the contrary, they’ll want to prop up the failing school by forcing poor parents to keep sending their children there through lack of choice. Even where local authorities aren’t worried about the impact of new free schools on their less successful schools, the sorts of schools they approve will likely be identical to the existing ones. It’ll be back to one size fits all, in other words – bog-standard comprehensives.
This confuses me, and it confuses me because Mr Hunt seemingly told a different story in the Mail on Sunday. According to the paper, Mr Hunt claimed that Labour isn’t going to hand control over taxpayer-funded education back to LEAs. “We are not going to go back to the old days of the local authority running all the schools – they will not be in charge,” he said. Doesn’t this have a whiff of a lie in there? It looks to me like this is exactly what Labour are planning to do, just Mr Hunt decided not to tell us that yet …