After Nick Clegg decided to have a grump about free schools in a paper whose own polling suggests they are popular with the public (more on this from Fraser), the Education department has hit back, reminding those who are frightened of that over-used word ‘ideology’ just what the big idea behind free schools really is:
‘Free schools are raising standards and giving parents more choice. They are run by teachers – not local bureaucrats or Westminster politicians – and are free to set their own curriculum, decide how they spend their money and employ who they think are the best people for the job. This Government is not going to take these freedoms away.’
You can read the rest of the statement, along with a translation, in Fraser’s blog here.
Now, this morning everyone is pointing out the discrepancy between Clegg’s ideology phobia on free schools, and David Laws’ strong support for them in the Commons this week (read his answer to Tristram Hunt’s urgent question on Thursday here).
But it’s worth noting that while Laws is, like Jeremy Browne, who has just issued a robust defence on the Sunday Politics of the schools as ‘a small ‘l’ liberal policy’, a fan of the project, he too fancies a bit of Lib Dem fiddling. I explained in my Telegraph column on Friday that Laws has set up a party working group to examine how free schools should be supervised as their numbers increase. The logic behind this idea is that the Education department won’t have the capacity to keep an eye on any other potential Al-Madinah schools, but the solution that the working group is currently considering is giving local authorities a role. But as the DfE statement today sets out, it is this absence of local bureaucracy that is part of the beauty and appeal of free schools. Clegg might be more overt in his opposition to free schools, but his colleagues could still weaken them with a policy Trojan horse.Tags: David Laws, Education reform, Free schools, Nick Clegg, UK politics