Free schools, so Michael “Oiky” Gove and his retinue of polecats never tire of telling the punters, are A Very Good Thing. They are not so vocal when those same schools become the centre of controversy, as happened recently in Pimlico, and not even the tireless interventions of the loathsome Toby Young can allay the thought that expectations are not always easy to deliver.
Yes, your policies
One Free School that has featured strongly in the debate on the concept has been the IES Breckland Free School, in the Suffolk town of Brandon. The school attracted attention because it would be managed by Swedish for-profit company Internationella Engelska Skolen (IES). Thus the argument as to whether or not this was bringing the profit motive into the classroom.
Tobes naturally pooh-poohed such talk: “this isn't an example of a charitable trust metamorphosing into a commercial company. Rather, it's an instance of a charitable trust in charge of a school letting a contract to a for-profit company to help it deliver that service”. See, it was just like one of those public-private partnerships, and they were fine for the last Labour lot – so that was OK.
Further support came from Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, who gushed “Michael Gove might have kept quiet about Breckland Free School, but it could be the start of something great - if the Lib Dems would change their minds ... Sometimes, when you’re a government minister, the best tactic is to keep quiet about any breakthroughs”. Nelson and Young are not so talkative today, though.
This may be not unconnected to the news from the Eastern Daily Press that “Sherry Zand, who took over the school on its opening in September 2012, stood down from her position at the Brandon school over the weekend”. Another head teacher going, and in mid-term too. An isolated incident? Er, no: “Ms Zand’s resignation comes just weeks after six members of staff were released on October 23”.
The school started with 300 pupils last year, and its maximum size is around 500. Who did they lose last month? “Staff released included the head of maths and a member of the senior leadership team, who was also head of the English department ... The school is currently hiring for seven vacancies, including the heads of English and communication, maths and modern foreign languages”.
That sounds not so much a coherent organisation as a complete shambles. Two department heads going at once, with three such posts now vacant, makes one wonder where the management discipline has gone – if it ever existed. Were this a state school, Tobes and his pals would be all over it like a rash. Instead, they all go quiet and pretend it isn’t happening.
Perhaps Tobes will have something to say later. But don’t hold your breath.