Who is pro-who is anti ?


It sometimes  feels as though those supporting Free schools are in the minority. So its worth looking at who is pro and who is against. If you look at the media we know that the Times, Sunday Times, Sun, FT ,Telegraph, Daily Mail , Economist and Spectator   are pro Free schools. The TES  is broadly supportive too. ( although   there are divisions  among TES journalists)) .The Independent  is sitting on the fence, along with the BBC (although some might dispute this) with the Guardian and Observer leaning towards  the anti stable and the Mirror definitely  anti. So the media in the round  is broadly  supportive of free schools.

In the media the most quoted pro free school spokespeople  are Toby Young, setting up a free school in west London  and Katharine Birbalsingh , the latter  a   former deputy head of a state schools  , who caused such a stir at the last Conservative conference by criticising the education system and poor aspirations.   Both have blogs hosted by the Telegraph.

The New Schools Network headed by Rachel Wolf provides support for those parents seeking to set up Free schools, and seems to punch above its weight  with a powerful group of advisers behind it, including  Baroness Sally Morgan, soon to Head Ofsted

On the anti-side Fiona Millar the Guardian Columnist,  and Chair of the Board of Governors of William Ellis, a comprehensive in North London (with an interim Headteacher and  55% 5 or more GCSE  A* – C grades including Maths and English) and Francis Gilbert, a media studies teacher in a Comprehensive are prominent in opposing free schools , operating a blog, site the Local Schools Network (not the same as the New schools Network which supports Free schools,  though -the similarity in name is not accidental). Melissa Benn  also  frequently contributes to the anti-lobby and writes for LSN. She co-wrote a pamphlet with Millar arguing that Academies and Free schools were damaging to comprehensive schools, diverting scarce  resources away from  them to new schools that are surplus to requirements. . Another similar blog  peddling pretty much the same line is  ‘The  Truth about our Schools’. The left wing lobby group Compass  is also  anti.

Politically the Coalition is broadly in favour of Free schools, at the national level at least,  though some Tory and Lib Dem councillors are not so  supportive. The Labour party  is broadly against, though Lord Adonis the former education Minister and Conor Ryan who advised David Blunkett when he was  education Secretary  are in favour. Barry Sheerman the former (Labour) Chairman of the Education Select Committee is also broadly in favour of the reforms evidenced in the new Education Bill.  Andy Burnhams   view  is hostile  in principle ,to Free schools but he falls short of saying that he will abolish them should Labour win power. In the Second Reading Debate on the Education Bill he said that he would look at how well a school was  integrated within the local community and its impact on outcomes before deciding its fate. Nonetheless he believes that the Coalitions Academies scheme is a corruption of the original scheme, as it is  now much broader  and not just focused on disadvantaged areas (although the architect of the original scheme Lord Adonis, the former Labour education Minister   has no problem with broadening the scope providing there is no selection and fair funding)

The Anti-Academies alliance is anti-free schools too. Nick Grant, co-founder of the Anti Academies Alliance, is a long-standing Socialist Workers Party member  and claims in a Socialist Review magazine article that ‘education workers globally and at all levels [are] being proletarianised at a rate of knots’. The Socialist Workers Party  according to the STA website  ‘plays a prominent role in current union campaigns’ and its members ‘are active in the majority of local NUT associations and divisions’.  Certainly  the NUT have recently mobilised to attack head teachers and parents  sympathetic to Michael Gove’s plans for education reform  (combining with the GMB)  in what Fraser Nelson and Ed Howker of The Spectator describe  as ‘a secret war which will decide the future of English education’. Its not very secret, it has to be said.  Christine Blower who heads the NUT   condemns both free schools and the Academies scheme, believing that they are divisive, that they amount to privatisation  and will lead to a redirection of  resources away from some disadvantaged  schools and pupils. The fact that the private sector cant profit from running state schools  hasn’t stopped allegations from unions that the system is being privatised.  The NUT criticises both the Swedish free schools system and US charter schools and having turned their backs on Sweden, promote the ‘comprehensive’ system in Finland. Blower  strikes  fairly typical stances that one might expect from an NUT leader, and  has a  left wing  pedigree.

The GMB union  has been particularly animated in campaigning against the Bolingbroke Academy not far from Clapham Junction. Labelling it the bankers free school , union leaders  push  the view that Free schools will atomise the schools system and are about middle class parents setting up schools  for their own children at the expense of  local disadvantaged children.

Groups are springing up now to provide more support to those wanting to set up Free schools and the Government appears to have taken on board that they need to give more proactive support to groups of parents who are  peceived to be under  under attack.

One big problem is the fact  the debate  has become so polarised and, yes, political. Seemingly sensible ,rational parents spend their  time seeking to score points over those on the other side, often cherry picking evidence  along the way while making it all  uncomfortably  personal.

There should be room for a mature constructive  debate which addresses the legitimate concerns of  both parties.  There is more common ground  than  either side seems prepared to concede, particularly over issues such as admissions, special education needs and support for the most disadvantaged pupils. It seems unlikely though that the tone  of this debate is going to change any time soon.

One factor  that is rarely taken into account  is that although most  politicians  champion more parental involvement and engagement  in their child’s education as a good thing, some teachers see this as a threat  to  their professionalism  and slightly dread  ‘pushy’ parents camped on what they see as  their lawn, and  the practical consequences  this might have for their professional lives.



  1. “One factor that is rarely taken into account is that although most politicians champion more parental involvement and engagement in their child’s education as a good thing, some teachers see this as a threat…”

    I think this is taken into account – by teachers and by educational psychologists at least. What is more important is whether all children will benefit from giving additional room for parents to expand their involvement. Are all parents equally willing and able to be involved in this? Will all students benefit equally? If not, we need to address this, because an unequal education system only benefits the elite… but perhaps that is why the most elitist political party is making this changes?

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