Monday, August 30, 2010

Sandy Walkington supports free school in St Albans

Yesterday I wrote about Liberal Democrats and free schools, suggesting that the Conference motion which wants us all to "urge people not to take up this option" is misconceived.

After writing that post I came across this news story from The Herts Advertiser:

Support has flooded in for a couple trying to establish a new state-funded primary school in St Albans.

More than 70 people have already signed a petition backing Fawzia Topan and Tim Hodgson’s plans to open a school for four to 11-year-olds under the Montessori ethos, which they already use to run a popular private nursery in Hatfield Road.

Local councillors, St Albans MP Anne Main and 2010 Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Sandy Walkington have also got behind the idea after meetings with the husband and wife team, who are using new coalition government legislation which allows individuals to open schools if there is a proven need.

I shall be surprised is the only Liberal Democrat who supports the establishment of a local free school.

8 comments:

Niklas said...

I've e-mailed him to see if he would be interested in signing my amendment. Fingers crossed...

Simon Titley said...

The pro/anti 'free schools' debate is depressing because it misses the point.

I see no harm in parents setting up a free school where there is genuine demand and the initiative will not have damaging knock-on effects on other schools in the area.

The basic problem with the 'free schools' policy is that is not a strategy for education. With the best will in the world, only a small minority of schools is ever likely to become free schools. The focus of education policy therefore needs to be on the majority of schools that are not free schools and unlikely to become so.

SandyW said...

The article quoting me as a "supporter" is something of an exaggeration. I met the people involved in the free school proposition at their request, St Albans does indeed need a new city centre primary school, I am agnostic as to whether this is the best solution, they have a lot of work to do to make it stand up.

Niklas said...

@Simon Titley: I see no harm in parents setting up a free school where there is genuine demand and the initiative will not have damaging knock-on effects on other schools in the area.

Indeed. And I agree with you that free schools cannot fix everything that needs fixing - the government needs to put a lot of effort into raising the quality of teacher training and reducing the turnover of teachers.

But as I explain in my LDV post and accompanying evidence review there is reason to believe that free schools could raise standards (modestly, but about as much as reducing class sizes, which is already Lib Dem policy and is quite expensive). I also feel strongly that they would be especially valuable for the families who are currently stuck with England's worst schools. Raising standards across the whole state sector (e.g. by raising the quality of teachers) is important, but so is levelling upwards.

I hope you will consider supporting my amendment, given that the motion's current wording is opposed to your opinion. If you would like to sign, please e-mail me on n.c.w.smith[at]gmail[dot]com.

Niklas said...

@SandyW: I hope you don't mind that I e-mailed you on the basis of that article.

I would be very grateful if you could consider the case for the amendment, and I would appreciate any comments you have on the draft. As a party we should have a position on free schools, and in my opinion it ought to be cautiously positive (as is amply justified by the evidence) rather than vehemently opposed.

jane said...

"Raising standards across the whole state sector (e.g. by raising the quality of teachers) is important, but so is levelling upwards." Unfortunately, the Swedish experience is that "free" schools do exactly the opposite. It is unlikely that any "free" schools will do anything but damage neighbouring schools and increase the social divide.

I am horrified that any Lib Dems should support any part of the Academies Act.

jane said...

As an afterthought. If it is such a good idea, why is it that the Department for Education are refusing to disclose information about interested groups, despite a Freedom of Information request. Are they scared that the small groups of people will be outnumbered by those who oppose the notion of "free" schools.

Is this really what Cameron's big society means - one rule for my friends and one for the rest of you?

Niklas said...

@jane: I am half-Swedish and I have followed the Swedish experience quite closely. The reason that standards have drifted downwards since the 1990s is precisely that teacher training has been woeful and that municipalities have been employing unqualified teachers, rather abusing the autonomy they were given at the same time as free schools were introduced (before the early 1990s reforms the school system was very heavily centralised).

As you can see from the review of evidence I wrote (at the end of this post http://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-why-lib-dems-should-support-free-schools-20890.html ), the best research shows that free schools in Sweden have improved results in the areas where they operate, although not by much. They certainly haven't harmed pupils in municipal schools.

And I do wish the other countries with free schools or similar systems would be given more place in the debate. Denmark has had free schools for over 150 years and the sky has manifestly not fallen in.