Great news for all progressives: a private school has been effectively been nationalised. Queen Elizabeth Grammar in Blackburn, founded in 1509, is to enter the state sector as one of Michael Gove’s free schools. Education that had previously been affordable only by the rich will now be open to all in Blackburn. It’s one of 104 free schools expected to open in 2014, bringing choice in education to a total of 130,000 pupils.
This policy stands firmly in the progressive tradition. Clement Attlee put it clearly:
‘There is plenty of room for pioneer work and experiment. The Working Men’s College, Morley College, the Polytechnics and the University Extension Lectures,
all owe their inception to the voluntary work and zeal for education of a few. New methods of teaching can be best proved by experiments on a small scale. If, for instance, the Montessori system were to be tested, it could hardly be done by a local education authority ; it would not be fair that parents who were obliged to send their children to school should have to submit them to experiment. It could only be tried by getting a certain number of enthusiasts to send their children to a special school. New departures, such as the open-air school, and the school journey, required to be pioneered by private individuals, and all such experiments require not only work but money.’
It was in socialistic Sweden that the Free School experiment was to see the flowering of Montessori schools, just as Attlee had hoped for. By 2008, a third of all Swedish schools had some pedagogical specialism. It was far-sighted Labour modernisers, like Andrew Adonis, who pushed this agenda through. He is celebrating the Blackburn school today, as is Jack Straw, the local MP. No word from Stephen Twigg, Michael Gove’s shadow, or Ed Miliband. Perhaps word of these 100-odd new free schools has not yet reached them.
What’s not to like about the fact that 64 per cent of the new mainstream free schools will be in the more deprived half of the country? Or that 44pc of them will be in the poorest third of communities? Why should only the rich be able to afford independent education?
The Department of Education as given details of other openings:
- The Jane Austen College in Norwich – a secondary school for 1,100 students that will specialise in English. It has been proposed by inspirational Head Teacher, Rachel De Souza. The school will have a focus on cultural literacy and traditional academic subjects, with every pupil studying a language until 16, with the option to study Latin.
- National Autistic Society (NAS) Free Schools – NAS has had two schools for children and young people with autism approved today. One, for 60 pupils, will be in east Cheshire and the other, for 78 pupils, will be in Lambeth. This builds on NAS’s first free school that is due to open in Reading in September.
- East London Academy of Music (ELAM) – a music school for 16-19 year olds in Tower Hamlets. The school is the brainchild of Will Kennard, one half of production duo Chase and Status, who wants to give talented students from deprived areas the opportunity to be successful.
- North Somerset Enterprise and Technology College in Weston-Super-Mare – a 700-pupil 14-19 free school proposed by the local Weston FE College. The FreeSchool will deliver a full curriculum, with an emphasis on STEM subjects. At KS4, all students will be entered for the English Baccalaureate and additional GCSEs, or will combine their core subjects with vocational Level 2 subjects.
It’s not quite clear when proving good, independent schools for the poor became a Conservative mission. In his 2012 Reith Lecture, Prof Niall Ferguson called for the ‘biodiversity’ of school provision – for reasons that Attlee outlined. It’s a shame that Ed Miliband’s Labour Party have lost sight of what ought to have been Labour’s guiding mission.