Similarly, and thankfully, there are no free schools up here. The first schools, set up by faith groups, parents or charities, out of local authority control but funded by the state, open this week. Now, frankly, I'd rather have done away completely with free schools than had a referendum on AV, but you can't win everything in a coalition. However, it's clear that we have moderated the Tories' ideas on these. For a start, Nick has insisted that these schools should be non-profit making. He's also talking about next year's free schools being opened in deprived areas to make sure that they don't just become middle class elitist enclaves which take only the brightest schools.
I have to be honest and say that I'd not want to send my daughter to a school meeting in a hall or library when she could be in a well equipped proper school run by the local authority where she'd meet a good mix of kids. I also worry about free schools draining money from local education authorities. A lot of their overheads are still the same, regardless how many kids attend the school, but if their funding is reduced by a few of their kids going off to free schools, they still have to pay the same electricity bill, for example.
However, Nick announced today in a speech at a London school that:
All of these things are about protecting the poorest, who have most to lose from a selective, elitist education system. I also like the idea that councils could have a greater role in approving free schools, bringing more accountability into the process. If they are doing their job properly, they'll make sure that these schools are sensibly located, not all in one area and across a mix of areas.
I always think it's a good idea to read the speeches in full, not just the soundbites you get on the news. You can read Nick's here.
Here's a few of the best bits:
His passion for social mobility is clear, and he's determined that we won't continue the pattern where we:
do the next generation a disservice by cursing them with our low expectations.Defining the problem:
For liberals, education is meant to free individuals from the circumstances of their birth. But in our society school doesn’t always provide that kind of opportunity to fulfil your potential. Too often our education system ties children to their beginnings; it denies their parents choice; and it deepens social divides.His red lines on free schools:
Let me be clear what I want to see from free schools. I want them to be available to the whole community – open to all children and not just the privileged few. I want them to be part of a school system that releases opportunity, rather than entrenching it. They must not be the preserve of the privileged few - creaming off the best pupils while leaving the rest to fend for themselves. Causing problems for and draining resources from other nearby schools. So let me give you my assurance: I would never tolerate that.And of the importance of parenting:
They know, like we all know, the importance of parental involvement in a child’s development. In his review of life chances, Frank Field found it to be the single most important factor in a child’s progress. Just last week we heard from Demos that children are much less likely to binge drink and get into trouble during adolescence. If they experience warmth in the home when they are young, and clear discipline as they grow up.
The fact is: parents hold their children’s fortunes in their hands. I know it’s not always easy. But, when you speak to teachers, they’re not making unrealistic requests. They aren’t demanding parents break the bank on private tutors, or top of the range computers. They aren’t insisting parents cut down on their working hours to spend more time at home. They just want mothers and fathers to get into simple, commonsense, inexpensive routines. Small changes that make the world of difference to their classrooms.And typical honesty from Nick that will resonate with many parents:
Do I get it right every day? No I don’t. But do I, like so many parents, want to do more? Yes I do. And I know parents up and down the country feel the same. Now is the time to do it. We expect teachers to do so much. And they invariably do. But we all have a part to play in transforming the nation’s schools.And the final conclusion:
Through choice and diversity – spread fairly – every community can have access to the schools they need.I still feel deeply uneasy about free schools, because I think you need to have one body in each area thinking about providing the best possible state education for all the local children at a strategic level. However, I do think that Nick's made this better than it would have been if the Tories had been left to it.