Nick Clegg speaks out against Michael Gove's free schools

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The Deputy Prime Minister is expected to say this week that he believes free schools have too much freedom.

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In a move that will distance the Liberal Democrats from the Government’s policy on free schools, Mr Clegg will argue that free schools and academies must follow the national curriculum and employ qualified teachers.

Currently free schools, a model introduced by education secretary Michael Gove, are allowed to set their own curriculum and employment standards.

In a speech to a London school on Thursday, Mr Clegg will say, ‘Every parent needs reassurance that the school their child attends, whatever its title or structure, meets certain core standards of teaching and care’.

‘What’s the point of having a national curriculum if only a few schools have to teach it? Let’s teach it in all our schools. And what’s the point of having brilliant new food standards if only a few schools have to stick to the rules? Let’s have quality food in all our schools.

‘It makes no sense to me to have qualified teacher status if only a few schools have to employ qualified teachers.

‘Over the last ten years, there’s been a revolution in the way in which we’ve recruited and trained our teachers.

‘I want every parent to know that their child will benefit from this kind of high quality teaching.’

His call comes after schools minister David Laws last week defended free schools saying they had done an 'absolutely fantastic job' in the two years since they were set-up.

Another free school, the Discovery New School in Crawley, West Sussex, the first state-funded primary to adopt a whole-school Montessori approach, was rated inadequate by Ofsted in June (see case study below).

At the time, Ofsted had inspected just 11 of the 81 established free schools.

According to The Guardian, head Lindsey Snowdon has now stepped down as head and a temporary head, experienced in turning round "failing schools", has been appointed in her place.

In the same week, the head teacher of Pimlico Primary in London, who had no formal teaching qualifications, left her job.

Annaliese Briggs, who used to work on education reform at the Civitas think tank, left the school just weeks after it opened.

A story by the BBC yesterday suggested that the childcare and education minister Elizabeth has rejected the Liberal Democrats calls for tighter controls on free schools.

In an interview with the BBC, Ms Truss said it was a ‘shame some Liberal Democrats did not back free schools’.

She added, ‘The whole point of the schools is they have the freedoms…that’s what’s helping them outperform maintained schools.’

Just last week the Al-Madinah free school in Derby was rated inadequate by Ofsted and described by the inspectorate as ‘dysfunctional’.

Commenting ahead of the Deputy Prime Minister’s speech on Thursday, a Department for Education spokesperson said, ‘Free schools are raising standards and giving parents more choice. They are run by teachers, not local bureaucrats or Westminster politicians, and are free to set their own curriculum, decide how they spend their money and employ who they think are the best people for the job. This Government is not going to take these freedoms away.

‘Independent schools have always been able to hire brilliant people who have not got qualified teacher status. Free schools and academies now have the same freedoms as independent schools to hire great linguists, computer scientists, engineers and other specialists so they can inspire their pupils.’

 

CASE STUDY

Discovery New School in Crawley, West Sussex

One of the first free schools in the country, Discovery New School was opened by Lindsay and Andrew Snowdon in 2011.

The school, situated in a Grade II listed building, was also the first state-funded primary in the country to adopt a whole-school Montessori approach.

Christian in character but welcoming of all faiths, the school is open to children from the age of four to 11. Class sizes are limited to 16 children.

Mr Snowdon told Nursery World in September 2010 that the school would employ teachers with degrees, despite being told by the Department for Education that teachers do not need to have QTS.

However in its first inspection in June, Ofsted rated it inadequate in thee out of four categories: pupil achievement, quality of teaching and leadership and management.

The chairman of the Montessori School’s Association Martin Bradley said that the association tried to ‘reach out’ to the school to offer support on several occasions, but they did not respond.

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