To no surprise at all, as shadow education man Stephen Twigg delivered a speech on the subject this morning, the spin merchants on the right were waiting with hatchets sharpened, ready to tell anyone who was in hearing range how jolly rotten it was compared to the very wonderful offerings of their hero Michael “Oiky” Gove. The actual content of the speech does not seem to have been considered.
Criticism? Directed at me?
Twigg has asserted that there will, under a future Labour Government, be no more Free Schools, although those so far established – such as the West London Free School, co-founded by the loathsome Toby Young – would be allowed to continue. He has also talked of “parent-led academies”, and this has been seized on by Tobes and his pals as proving a Free School get-out clause.
But a quick read through of the Twigg speech suggests otherwise: parents and other stakeholders having a say is not the same as Free Schools. And the concept of devolution Twigg is pushing does not mean freedom from local Government involvement: rather, it means that local authorities may be doing more than at present, as they will have to take on what Gove’s department did previously.
Big Al's partner has actually read the speech ...
Indeed, the speech talks about local authorities having a monitoring role, being able to call out underperforming Free Schools: “As the numbers of academies and Free Schools rise, underperformance and mismanagement are being spotted and acted on much too late ... We need stronger local oversight for all schools so that struggling schools are spotted much sooner” [my emphasis].
Nor does Twigg rule out local authorities opening new maintained schools, for example to deal with local increases in the demand for places. At present, this cannot happen without there being an academy or Free School partner: Gove has managed to introduce a layer of centrally-imposed bureaucracy (not that his retinue of polecats will be telling anyone any time soon).
... which is more than Gove's polecats have bothered to do
But instead of exercising any measure of caution – the Telegraph’s James Kirkup at least manages an honourable exception here – the Toby Young-led brigade are already putting the boot in. “Labour has raised the white flag on free schools. It's just going to re-brand them 'parent academies'”. Try actually reading the speech, Tobes. But the @toryeducation Twitter feed does no better.
Dominic Cummings and Henry de Zoete’s best shot was “name change for Free Schools, loads more interference in ALL schools from MPs/bureaucrats/LAs”. So they haven’t read it either. And neither Tobes nor his fellow polecats within the DfE seem to have noticed that this is not about Themselves Personally Now, but concerns the futures of rather a lot of young people.
Instead, debate is replaced by more puerile name-calling. That’s not good enough.