Wednesday, 15 April 2015
What a happy word FREE is! On the grand scale there's the classic news photo of Nelson Mandela striding into the sunshine with a smile; at the other end it might be just a smile on a shopper's face on finding an extra 33% of detergent in a bottle (“enough for six more washes!”). So free means happy-me, free is good. OK then, what about all those free schools that David Cameron has promised us if we let him? (Did I say promised or threatened to inflict upon us just then?) Anyway, moving swiftly on… Free in this case means free from some of those irksome little restrictions that Local Authority schools have to abide by, such as insisting that teachers have actual teaching qualifications, or following the National Curriculum. They are not claiming to be free in the money sense: they are to be paid for by the taxpaying public.
Perhaps inflicted upon us would be the right thing to say is going on. Let me explain: Why is it that proposed schools quietly disappear? Oh yes they do. When a planning application for 300 new houses near Gunvil Hall to the South-west of Wymondham was first discussed, the idea was suggested that part of the plan would include a new school. After the plans have bounced between South Norfolk and the developers a couple of times, when Wymondham Town Councillors saw the latest version with a space where the school was, I asked “What has happened to the proposed school?” I was told that the developers asked the County Council for details and were told that a new school was not needed in that area; it’s within cycling distance of both Wymondham College and Wymondham High. (No, I don’t know either how that squares with the need for primary school places, but heigh-ho!) Instead of building a school, the developers’ PR told me they were advised, perhaps they could either leave a space or build a community building that potentially could be used for a free school. That is a clear example of Tories preparing the ground for more cuts in services, more movement towards their dogmatism. It's not exactly privatisation, but it is less local control pretending to be more, less money for Local Authority education where we need more. I am yet to be shown even one single tiny benefit of free schools, other than to County Councils who want to shed responsibility for excellence in education.