The Labour Party Conference last week included an interesting fringe debate on “What should Labour promise on schools in 2015?”
The panel included Tristram Hunt, shadow Secretary of State for Education, Laura McInerney, journalist and former teacher who was in court recently in an effort to make the DfE release documents on free school applications, Chris Keats of the NAS/UWT, Jonathan Simons of the Policy Exchange, and George Eaton of the New Statesman in the chair.
Some interesting information came out of the debate, including the fact despite the stated Labour promise to abolish Free Schools, all concerned share the view that a return to control all state-funded education by local authorities is not on the cards, if education is to progress.
Each time the suggestion of returning to local authority control is made it is greeted with applause according to Jonathan Simons, but this would be regarded as a retrograde step in the view of all the movers and shakers in education, apparently.
Here are some more statements relevant to the concerns of most people here about the way new schools are opened.
- Wants to see growth of parent led academies with qualified teachers, in areas of need with accountability and transparency. “We need a middle tier of management”.
- A Free school opened in south London recently with 17 pupils, costing £18m.
- Labour will not close existing free schools, as this would not be practical.
- Transparency is the most important feature in the approval of new schools.
- Putting all schools back under local authority control will not improve education.
- Public hearings required in US before schools open or close – this idea should be used here.
- Curriculum should be removed from political control and given to an independent group, with changes made only every 5 years to enable continuity for teachers.
- The unheralded policy shift by this government is that free schools are more likely to open in areas of basic need.
- Ed Miliband said Labour will abolish free schools – but Hunt pointed out that there will still be parent led academies.
- Encourage new providers of education.
- Bringing schools back under local authority control is not realistic, and not palatable. ”The Autonomy genie is out of the bottle – there is cross party recognition of that fact.”
- Sponsored academies raised standards – thanks to Tony Blair, who was elected on this mandate for education.
The proposed Steiner free school in Stroud is labelled a “parent and teacher-led academy”. As such I guess (I don’t know) that under Labour it would be seen as acceptable. The only slight difference is that Labour are promising new schools will only open in areas of basic need, and not where there are surplus school places.
The present government also says that groups have to supply “evidence of need”, so it would be interesting to know exactly how each party would define this need.
In my view the fact that Steiner schools are controlled in part by the Steiner Waldorf Schools Fellowship (SWSF) means that they are not “parent-led”, so I would like to know exactly what is the definition of this term, and which groups qualify.