Cameron announces that, in addition to the 240 so-called free schools already operating in 2014-15, a re-elected Tory government will open a further 153. Why is the Labour party so timid in responding to this? The official riposte was: “Instead of focusing on the need for more primary school places, David Cameron’s government has spent £241m on free schools in areas that already have enough school places. The result is a 200% increase in the number of infants taught in classes of more than 30”. The impression given is that what is wrong with free schools is merely that they’re being set up in the wrong places: if they were set up in places where there’s a shortage of primary school places, that would be fine. Except it wouldn’t be fine at all. Why doesn’t Labour make the real charge against free schools?
Just about everything is wrong with free schools. As is already happening big time with the NHS, they represent the worst form of privatisation since they are funded by the State, yet the State (i.e. taxpayers) exercises no public control over either their policies or performance. They are often set up by some highly eccentric characters who have little knowledge or interest in education, but have their own pet obsession played out in the school curriculum, even perhaps anticipating that if the Tories win again they will make a tidy profit if for-profit schools are introduced. Already a free school gets more funding and support from the government than a State school does. Moreover, staff at free schools are not even obliged to have any teaching qualifications. And the local population have no power to call free schools to account whatever their policies or antics.
Why doesn’t Labour say all this as the reason why it will end this disastrous Govean policy which is ultimately aimed at the total privatisation of the UK education system? Labour is accepting the case for integrating health and social care under local authority control in the Manchester city region proposal, so why doesn’t it champion returning education to local authority control where the case is much stronger because it would ensure balanced and supported development for all schools in the area, not privileged positioning for one renegade? Why does Labour appear to be running scared of local authorities and opting instead for quangos at regional or sub-regional levels? And why is Labour merely threatening to remove State subsidies from public schools if the fail to ‘co-operate’ rather than setting out a programme to integrate them in the public sector as happens in all the countries most successful in education like Finland and Korea?