Free Schools Good: UTCs bad. Is that the latest message about schools coming from the Tory Party? If so, where does that leave studio schools, converter academies and regular sponsored academies. Frankly, I haven’t got a clue.
Readers will recall that UTCs are 14-18 schools created by this government along the lines of the City Technology Colleges championed by Kenneth Baker when he was Education Secretary. Not surprisingly, he is in favour of the UTCs as well. One might have expected that the Tory Party having invented these schools would be in favour of more of them in the next parliament, but no, in January, as this blog reported in a post on the 6th January, the Tory Party attacked Labour’s costings for 100 new UTCs during the life of the next parliament. At that time it didn’t offer any suggestion that extra schools would be needed to cope with increased pupil numbers. Depending upon your view of how large schools should be come, new schools may or may not be necessary to deal with the growth in pupil numbers.
If we do need new schools, are 14-18 schools now off the Tory agenda or only going to be present if there is local demand and hang the problems that might be caused for existing schools. It is one thing to protect the education budget from cuts, but surely that doesn’t mean wasting money on creating schools where they are not needed.
The Tory Party is no doubt relying on the Policy Exchange review of Free Schools published today to support the case for more of these schools. The evidence in the report is debatable to say the least and might support more than one conclusion as a Policy Exchange spokesperson agreed on the Today programme this morning when debating with Rebecca Allen of the FFT’s new datalab research centre. I guess if you take out the religious free schools, such as those opened by members of the Jewish community, the data on performance by free schools might be even more questionable. With a drive to raise standards in all schools, the fact that some high performing schools near free schools apparently saw their performance decline is worth unpacking as in most situations those tested didn’t have the option of the choice between a free school or their current school when deciding on school choice.
Probably the most distressing aspect of the announcement today is that in a time of austerity the Tory party still seems to want to favour the few over the many. Spending all available funding on raising standards for all rather than wasting time and energy on the few parents that want their own form of education will surely do more to help England plc in the future.
Anyway, as Policy Exchange have shown, more and more free schools are being opened by academy chains and other established groups rather than by parent or teacher groups. Why not rebadge them as voluntary schools, for that is what many of them increasingly are, but under a new guise.