Coffee House

The Lib Dems no longer support school choice

12 May 2014

8:19 AM

12 May 2014

8:19 AM

Throughout this latest, blazing Coalition row over Michael Gove – which is spreading like fire over dry heath and has now ignited the normally harmonious Treasury – the Liberal Democrats have insisted that they support free schools. They argue that it is simply Gove’s ‘zealotry’ in transferring £400 million from the basic need allocation to the free schools project, not the principle of free schools. They are indeed mostly needled by years of working with a man who they find difficult to work with, and whose enthusiasm for certain aspects of education, whether it be free schools or the history curriculum, irritates them. They were also needled by the way his advisers sought to cut them out of the policymaking process (although as Dominic Cummings told Coffee House on Friday, this often needled Downing Street too).

But listen carefully to their protests. The briefings over the weekend and the continuing sniping today contains an important line that shows the Lib Dems are pulling out of the education big tent. Tim Farron was on the Today programme a few minutes ago, arguing that the Conservatives were not addressing the priority, which was ensuring there were sufficient school places. He said some free schools ‘are not really meeting any demand for additional places’.


The briefing at the weekend was that ‘it is nothing short of lunacy to slash the amount of money available for new school places to lavish on free schools’. This means that the Lib Dems now hold the same position as Labour on free schools. They support free schools in areas where there is a shortage of places, which defeats one of the key aims of these schools, which improve (and encourage other local schools to improve too) through competition. It is not that these schools are inherently better than local schools – although they are freed from local education bureaucracy – but that they are driven by competition for pupils to be the best they can, rather than coasting.

It also means that parents, unhappy with the existing provision in their area, cannot set up a free school if sufficient places are already available. The Liberal Democrats want to return the power to bureaucrats who are happy if schools – even schools parents wish they didn’t have to send their children to – are full. And thus Nick Clegg’s party has left the education big tent, even if it doesn’t want to admit it as it fights this feverish coalition battle.

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Show comments
  • Smithersjones2013

    This means that the Lib Dems now hold the same position as Labour on free schools.

    Ah so now the Libdems are ‘positioning’ themselves (laying on their fronts and proffering their rear ends) to enable them to ‘accept’ a coalition shafting from Labour like the good little political whores they have always been

  • FF42

    Education is a public good that is paid for by the taxpayer. We want universality, efficiency and choice.. Unfortunately you can’t in practice have all three at the same time. If you give everyone equal access to everyone who qualifies, you eliminate choice, which is necessary for giving people what they want. Or you offer some people choice, which denies to options to others, because the choices are limited. Or you expand capacity so everyone can make the choice they want, but that is at the expense of efficiency. The taxpayer will ultimately have to pay for it.

    No-one has satisfactorily reconciled universality, efficiency and choice for public services. We just have to be aware of the tensions between them.

    It looks like the Michael Gove et al have traded universality for choice. In other words, the option of free schools for some has been at the expense of other parents getting their children into a better state school, according to the Lib Dems. On the other hand, Lib Dems have traded choice for universality, which arguably means that all children suffer a worse education.

  • Liberty

    Of course, we wouldn’t have a shortage of places if mass immigration were halted. We don’t have the infrastructure for mass immigration.

    • GraveDave

      The Right seem overwhelmingly to support Michael Gove and his teaching of ‘proper history’. Yet every time you see the guy in the papers, visiting a school or sitting a classroom it appears to be a school visibly lacking in the people whose history it is. And it’s not just the likes of Clegg have complained about Gove’s zeal for doing everything his way. Many others have along the way.
      So it looks like Gove is turning out to be the IDS of Education.

  • Timple

    Where do we go from here if we are now to allow state over-supply in the name of competition? Should communities now demand two local hospitals so they can choose to go to the one with better treatment?

    Lets make sure all schools educate children to enable them to meet their full potential.

    • Alexsandr

      how do you do that with no competition?

  • rtj1211

    The question to ask is, in times of limited budgets, you can AFFORD to have an excess of supply to ‘promote competition’ at the expense of providing capacity in areas where demand outstrips supply.

    I would have thought that this is the most fundamental duty of a Secretary of State for Education, be they Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP, Monster Raving Loony Party or unelected and unremovable EU apparatchik.

    I don’t wish to get into party politics on this one, what Mr Gove has to answer is this: is there now a ‘postcode lottery’ concerning education provision??

    I am a firm believer in Free Schools as a concept but I am also of the opinion that the first priority has to be ensuring that all children in this country have access to state education.

    I don’t think the Spectator does itself any favours by focussing on fripperies and not addressing this most central of questions for any government of any hue.

    • Rhoda Klapp8

      “is there now a ‘postcode lottery’ concerning education provision??”

      Yes, and there always was, even before postcodes were invented. It goes down to which classroom within the same school.

      (Why is monopoly so desirable when it is delivered by the state?)

  • dalai guevara

    This is not about choice. This is about not choosing centralist organisation and the privatisation of base level education. Free schools are no better than any other schools before them as recent studies prove beyond doubt.
    They are not free and subscribe to a centralist doctrin. Why do we subscribe blindly to the cause of privatisation when clearly no real benefits are delivered here and even in Sweden (that camp’s great exemplar) major private providers now find themselves bankrupt. Who picks up that bill?
    We shall give it 12 months max until the current delinquent running the affairs will be exchanged and the entire ‘project’ canned.

    • Des Demona

      Not only bankrupt but shooting down the educational league tables.

  • DavidL

    Pathetic. In entering coalition with the Conservatives, the Lib Dems cast off most of their most left-leaning supporters. Now, in the final year of that Coalition, they go chasing after them, yelling, “Stop! We agree with you really”. That will work well.

  • Raw England

    Note how the Left-wing, multicultural political class and system has failed, with disgusting intensity, to make any aspect of Britain work properly.

    The multicultural, Left-wing political class and system has destroyed our schools, our economy, our NHS, our communities, our pride, our family unit and our futures.

    Everything they’ve touched has turned to misery, destitution and confusion and sh*t.

    • GraveDave

      Likewise the Right.

    • Alexsandr

      now go and read the piece on the situation in wales, and weep.

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    Remind me why we need more school places.

    • Andy

      We can’t do that because we have a care for your blood pressure.

    • Colonel Mustard

      Mr Cameron explains:-

      He can’t stop it but says he does hope to “renegotiate” with his EU masters to see if some constraints might be imposed on benefits tourism, some time, maybe, so that British taxpayers won’t have to continue subsidising anyone who wants to come here and on which there is currently absolutely no controllable limit (as Mr Farage’s posters have stated).

      He had promised to reduce immigration to under 100,000 but when he made that promise he knew that he couldn’t do that because the government of this country no longer has sovereignty over its own borders. In 2012 immigration was 154,000 and in 2013 212,000 (up to September) .

      “And I doe declare That noe Forreigne Prince Person Prelate, State or Potentate hath or ought to have any Jurisdiction Power Superiority Preeminence or Authoritie Ecclesiasticall or Spirituall within this Realme Soe helpe me God.”

      Here is how “our” Parliament was briefed on how they could ignore this declaration in the Bill of Rights 1689:-

      “The Bill of Rights contains an interesting sentence apparently attempting to entrench its provisions and make them immune from subsequent amendment or repeal:

      ‘All which their Majestyes are contented and pleased shall be declared enacted and established by authoritie of this present parliament and shall stand remaine and be the law of this realme forever’

      “Consequently it is sometimes mistakenly believed that the Bill of Rights cannot be amended. This is not the case. It is a fundamental principle of British constitutional law that no parliament can bind its successors and that any statute can be repealed; this doctrine was already established by the late 17th century. The principle of parliamentary sovereignty means that the UK Parliament can enact any law whatsoever on any subject whatsoever, (although there are now considerations of compatibility with European Union law, and it is arguable that the European Communities Act of 1972 is “semi-entrenched”. For as long as the UK remains a member of European Union that Act cannot be repealed.)”

      So an Act intended to confer Rights on the British people and the future sovereignty of this realm can be ignored by those charged with our protection without formal repeal but the European Communities Act of 1972 is “semi-entrenched”.

      I think the whole gang in that House need to be arrested for treason.

      • Rhoda Klapp8

        So if 100,000 incomers are likely to want to have kids while they are here and 100,000 outgoers are retiring to the sun, can we see how zero net immigration can mean we need more school places? And that the numbers and the annual variation of numbers means it cannot be accurately predicted or planned as with a stable population?

        • Colonel Mustard

          The “policy” is madness and the way of using net figures to try to alleviate concern dishonest for the reasons you cite. When the East European nations joined the EU the infrastructure risks should have been foreseen and planned for. That they were not suggests that the government was either incredibly stupid or the consequences were desired.

  • monty61

    Personally I hate the Lib Dems with a passion, but it’s pretty clear Gove has over-reached himself in this case.

  • Tony_E

    Liberal democrats – lining themselves up for the next ‘Coalition’ since 2010.

    • Alexsandr

      to be in coalition you need seats in the commons. I hope the limp dumps have none in 2015

  • Colonel Mustard

    The Illiberal Undemocrats, like Labour, hate anything with the word ‘free’ in it except free lunches for their La La Quangoland and fake charity fellow travellers paid for by the taxpayer.

    • Hexhamgeezer

      Maybe their full title should be LIBERAL (but read the small print) DEMOCRATS (but read the small print)

    • rtj1211

      I think you need to address the issue at hand rather than using your usual foul-mouthed rhetoric which adds nothing to the debate and merely shows you up to be a tribal idiot of the first order.

      You’ll note that I’m not taking sides in the argument, merely suggesting that you are incapable of argument and always come across as being half way down a bottle of downmarket gin.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Where is the “foul-mouthed rhetoric” in my comment?

        The comment is directed at the political party concerned unlike your own comment which is just ad hominem against my right to express an opinion together with an insinuation that I drink “downmarket gin” at inappropriate times.

        The fact that you are not taking sides in the argument (what argument?) but just making an “intervention” in order to do a bit of personal slagging off is no criteria to be proud of.

        And I’m not tribal. I detest them all.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Which is a bit ricj coming from the person who wrote this a day ago:-

        “I do hope your children died in Iraq.

        Nothing less than that will convince me that all the Conservatives, Labourites and American cocksuckers, most of whom have large amounts of assets and many of whom have pseudo-intellectual degrees had the best interests of anyone but JP Morgan et al at heart when murdering 100,000+ people on a false prospectus both in the UK (Blair’s bullshit about WMD) and the USA (Saddam Hussein was linked to Usama bin Laden), wasting billions to trillions of taxpayer dollars on the exercise and earning ACLB £50m in dirty money kickbacks in subsequent years.

        For that reason and that reason alone, your idea is so pathetically wrong headed as to badge you as of judgement so defective that your right to suffrage should be withdrawn with immediate effect.

        This does not make me left wing, it makes me a human being who demands that the so-called superior intellects sacrifice their own children rather than the poor when going to war on false prospectuses.

        Lest you wonder I am MA (Cantab), PhD (Glasguensis), MBA (Manchester) and my GMAT score in 1997 was 750/800, a score which would eliminate 99%+ of the population were it insufficient to pass your ‘intelligence test’……”

        And you have the gall to accuse me of imbibing inappropriately…

      • Colonel Mustard
    • dalai guevara

      Free schools aren’t free. This is about control of funding by means of privatisation and the implementation of a centralist diktat.

  • BigAl

    The discussion by the 2 Tims on the today programme was a farce. Two people who know little about the running of the education department throwing £M sums at each other and making purely political points.

    We need good schools not this sort of political nonsense.

    • Andy

      So lets privatise education. We can start by issuing Education Vouchers.

      • rtj1211

        I trust you will provide the shortfall created by private providers siphoning off funds for ‘dividends’, ‘consultancy’ etc etc leading to a downgrading of the education provision.

        The fact is that some private providers will be good and some will fleece the public. When the ones doing the fleecing are blackmailing Government and Civil Service, you have the makings of long-term swindle.

        • Andy

          You said anything about ‘Dividends’ ?? Many Private Schools are Chraitable Trusts, not limited companies. And why are you so anti the very idea of ‘profit’ ? I want better standards in schools and as the State – or rather the Marxist views of LEA and the ‘Blob’ – has caused so much damage and f*cked up so many childrens lives it is time to destroy their stangle hold on education, which privatisation will do.