Labour backs Free Schools

Far more important than Labour’s reiterated pledge announced today to adhere to a watered down class size policy they first introduced in 1997 was the fact that at the same time they seemingly conceded that Labour now no longer universally opposes Free Schools as a concept; they just oppose them where they aren’t needed. Others will know whether this is a major concession or just a bit of real politick. Perhaps such schools might have been more acceptable if they had been branded as ‘voluntary academies’ to sit alongside converter and sponsored academies in the family of schools. After all, there has been a long tradition of voluntary schools in the state system and by no means are all of them faith schools.

Sadly, Labour seems to have ducked the issue of who will enforce class size controls. I assume it will be regional commissioners in academies, but will it still be local authorities in other schools and how will they be funded for such a duty?

The allowance of a year with an oversize class muddies the water since if on day one of the second year the school creates two classes but on day two reverts to one over-sized class for financial reasons will the clock start again providing another year of grace for the school? Realistically, as Labour understood in 1997, but doesn’t seem to now, if press reports are correct, an over-size class needs to be dealt with when it arises and either reduced in size or a dispensation granted because there is no other solution possible. There is also no pledge to extend the limit to the junior age pupils. They can still legally be taught in a class of any size.

I welcome the acceptance that teachers need to be trained and the work that Chris Waterman is doing with SATTAG and the manifesto on teacher education should help make clear to all where the Parties stand on this issue during the general election. Every MP seeking re-election will have received a copy of the manifesto in the post and as a contributor I hope that they read it and make their position clear.

There are big risks for education in England after the election as any coalition propped up by Scottish Nationalist MPs wouldn’t have a majority on education issues in England since it seems unlikely many Scottish Nationalist MPs would want to hang around Westminster to vote or even speak in debates about schooling in England; not a topic they know much about anyway. In that respect, education in England could be the big loser of a hung parliament with the Secretary of State having to be mindful of what might be voted down in parliament. This is an issue that no doubt will be discussed further between now and the 7th May.


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