WHAT DOES ANDY BURNHAM SAY ABOUT FREE SCHOOLS?
Wants Free Schools to demonstrate that they benefit all children in the local area ,not just those that attend the Free School
Andy Burnham, the Shadow Education Secretary, has been careful not to say that should Labour win the next election it would abolish Free Schools.
He said in a recent speech at an Education Conference on 17 May that “We are not against people who are trying to set up their own schools. And in the future, if a school was up and running successfully and making a positive input to the local community, a Labour Government would not close it simply because it was a Free School. Of course not. But what matters in deciding about any new parent-promoted schools is the contribution a new school makes to improving standards for all children. That’s why local areas should judge whether each school plans to operate in the wider interests of all children in the area, not just those that attend the school. My test will be clear – we should look not just at the results in the individual school but at the effect on results in the wider family of schools.” Burnham had told the ASCL conference earlier this year, that he had made it clear that “free schools must be judged by local areas on the merits of each proposal.” Peter Hyman, a labour party member and former aide to Tony Blair, was singled out by Burnham as having the right approach to Free Schools. He is establishing a Free School in Newham. Burnham notes that his proposals “are comprehensive, committed to fair admissions, and have the full backing of their local area. “ This has prompted some critics to suggest that he favours Free Schools providing, that is, they are set up by Labour supporters. He has criticised Toby Youngs West London Free School bid. Last December he said to the Guardian: “What I’d tell the Toby Youngs of this world is that your choice, well-intentioned as it might be … can undermine someone else’s options and choice.” With a number of influential Labour party members supporting Free Schools but with most union leaders opposed Burnham clearly has to steer a delicate course, seeking to satisfy two very different constituencies. So, he has a bit of a challenge on his hands.
Burnham says he will “judge every education policy on two clear tests – does it help every school to be a good school and every child to be the best they can be. That is why I say that by pursuing the free schools programme in the way that they are, the government has a plan for some schools and some children but not all schools and all children. “ Burnham’s main concern seems to be that Free Schools are not targeted at the most disadvantage pupils, in the most disadvantaged areas. Indeed he claims just 2 of the 26 schools approved so far are in the 10 most deprived communities. So, he concludes, taking into account also the new Academies scheme (which encourages good schools too to become Academies) that while spending on schools overall is falling, funding is now ,as a result of this policy, being diverted from areas of educational disadvantage to wealthier areas.
About 10 Free Schools are expected to open this September. To date 40 FS proposals have been approved by the Secretary of State to proceed to business case and plan stage or beyond.