No extra free schools to open under Labour, says Twigg


Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg: ''We are not going to close the existing free schools... but we won't continue with that programme''

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There would be no more free schools opened by a future Labour government, but existing free schools could stay open, says the party's education spokesman, Stephen Twigg.

The shadow education secretary also wants all state schools in England to have the rights given to academies.

Mr Twigg says he wants to end a "fragmented, divisive" school system.

Education Secretary Michael Gove says the proposals were still "free schools under a different name".

"Labour's policy on free schools is so tortured they should send in the UN to end the suffering," said Mr Gove.

In a major policy speech on Monday, Mr Twigg has taken a significant step towards setting out the opposition's schools policy.

Free schools, set up by parents and other groups, would no longer be created under Labour. The more than 80 free schools already open and those in the pipeline would continue to be funded, says Mr Twigg, but beyond that point new schools would have to be created as academies.

Under his blueprint, academies and local authority schools would have similar levels of autonomy. Mr Twigg described the plans using a phrase associated with Tony Blair's early years in office: "Standards not structures."

Mr Blair's former education secretary, David Blunkett, is also returning as the head of a review into how academies and other schools should work with local authorities.

Mr Twigg argues against an "incoherent" and "bureaucratic" system in which different types of school have different levels of flexibility.


"We know that giving schools more freedom over how they teach and how they run and organise their schools can help to raise standards," the shadow education secretary told his audience at the RSA in London.

"So why should we deny those freedoms to thousands of schools? All schools should have them, not just academies and free schools.

Start Quote

Labour's policy on free schools is so tortured they should send in the UN to end the suffering”

End Quote Michael Gove Education Secretary

"A school should not have to change its structure just to gain freedoms."

Since Labour left office in 2010, more than half of secondary schools in England have become self-governing academies, and rather than reversing this tide, Mr Twigg says that all schools should share similar degrees of autonomy.

Academies, state-funded schools which operate outside of local authority control, can set their own curriculum and decide their own school terms and the length of school days.

They have greater financial independence and can buy in services such as technology.

Rather than turn back from the model of school autonomy, a Labour government would accelerate more schools in that direction.

Pay limits

"Many academies say freedom to innovate in the curriculum has given their teachers a new sense of confidence and professionalism," Mr Twigg says.

There are now almost 3,000 academies and the announcement by Mr Twigg seems set to draw a line under any suggestion that Labour might withdraw support from them.

But this does not mean that Labour wants all schools to have every freedom associated with academies.

Academies are able to set their own pay and conditions for their teaching staff, a power that has been controversial with the teachers' unions.

Labour is not proposing that this power should be extended to all schools, arguing that the current national pay framework should not be broken up.

There would also be a more significant role for local authorities, with Mr Twigg arguing they should be able to intervene in academies and free schools, as well as local authority schools, when there are concerns about standards.

A Department for Education source dismissed Labour's policy announcements, saying free schools would continue "in all but name".

"Labour policy on free schools is still confused. On the one hand Twigg says he will end the free school programme, but on the other he says he would set up 'parent-led and teacher-led academies' - free schools under a different name."

The government source also accused Labour of confusion over what powers should be devolved to schools.

"Stephen Twigg has previously said that he wants to take freedoms over the curriculum away from academies," said a government source.

"Just two months ago he even said Labour will restore local authority control over academies."

Qualified to teach

The government is also attacking Labour's proposal that only staff with teaching qualifications should be allowed to teach in state schools.

A Department for Education source said schools needed the "flexibility to allow brilliant teachers from private schools or abroad to teach in state schools".

"It's a mistake to confuse being properly qualified and state-controlled licences, and it would be stupid to stop brilliant teachers who want to be able to switch from private to state schools from doing so."

Head teachers' leader Brian Lightman welcomed the continuity suggested by Labour's plans to extend academies rather than reinvent the school system.

"The last thing schools need is yet more turmoil caused by rushed reforms," said Mr Lightman, general secretary of the ASCL head teachers' union.

"However there is a need to reduce variability amongst schools so it is therefore right that any freedoms granted to academies and free schools should be extended to all state schools."

Mr Lightman also backed the idea of maintaining a national system of pay and conditions.

The National Union of Teachers welcomed the requirement for all teachers to have teaching qualifications and the support for national pay bargaining, but warned that allowing parents to open schools would not create a "coherent" system.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 371.

    No Faith schools, No Free Schools, no Academies.
    We need one universal education system, equally funded, with the same exams and standards and curriculum.
    We need to stop the segregation of our children and improve the whole system not just a part of it. And lets not indoctrinate children into cults, no matter how popular they are.

  • rate this

    Comment number 370.

    Being Northern Irish I am against faith schools.
    Education in the UK should be secular like France and the USA.
    Young people who leave school without being able to write a sentence or do elementary maths are either of low intelligence, have health or substance issues, are lazy, or have unsupportive parents of low educational attainment.
    Changing exams or teachers won't help them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 369.

    367 stewing
    Obviously education improves the "parents"of the future as well,so if and when that ever happens in larger numbers and we have the positive effects of school,parent,and child in ever increasing numbers,easy,ring Mr Gove
    (feel free to ignore for the negative comments that may be posted)what changes would you like/make to teacher unions if any,in order to help speed up the process!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 368.

    People who think they how schools should work & they work in corporate. I work in edu, academies run like companies. I'm far from being a teacher & work in another high skilled job within it. Gov't experiment making our children the stats as grades drive results, leave the professionals to do whats best, besides without teachers where would you be today, uneducated & unable to write a comment!

  • rate this

    Comment number 367.

    @364 Circus Maxima. Yep. Indeed perhaps more than you think! See report I posted for gerald at 353. @ alan 350. Right about politicians who thought up a scheme for gifted and talented some years ago. My son was identified as gifted in maths. He went to one of the additional sessions on a Sat morning but after half an hour decided playing football for school team was far more important.

  • rate this

    Comment number 366.

    Good. Free schools are almost invariably religious and the last thing kids need is three hours of poisonous rubbish from the first dark age when they should be learning core subjects. No more religious indoctrination please we know better now so lets just stick to the facts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    363 stewing
    Well I am touched,truly!
    My "child"is at the very top,with generous help!
    And you could even google their achievements,about to leave very soon,sad....

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    We need one education system with a consistently high standard run by professional teachers. Beyond the core system we should not spend any public money(ie all state funds should go to the state system) The differences in the outcomes are largely the result of the parents efforts.
    It sounds fairly simple......but it seems to be a concept that is way beyond the average career politician.

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    @gerald. Yes gerald the 'own' was directed at you. As an ex headteacher I can assure you that some parents don't, sometimes can't value education as highly as yourself....Which I guess is at the centre of the report.

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.

    361 alan
    We may be at X-purposes,let me clarify!
    You need the core subjects,in order to get the job in the 1st place,and to remain employed,in addition to having a greater chance of climbing the ladder..........
    Agree,as in most areas,you may use little of you knowledge,an analogy would be your passport,little used,but you cant get in or travel(move)without it!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    I disagree.
    90% of jobs only require basic arithmetic and perhaps a little algebra and the ability to construct a sentence and spell combined with reasonable communication and social skills.
    I agree however that we do require highly educated people but only a relatively small number.
    When did you last use quadratic equations and differential calculus at work?

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    Sara--I and others here have tried some tolerance with you.But your comments get worse and worse.How can your children be wonderful "free-thinkers" when they have a parent who talks openly of "Your religion" and "Your God" ??They will, without any doubt, be indoctrinated by your views that anti-religion is the way forward, just cos u had bad Catholic upbringing. U R selfish; poor kids !Poor posts!

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    @356 Sara. Look at this in it's historical context and it has a lot to do with religious freedom which I'm sure you support. It is one of the few areas where taxpayers can in a practical sense choose how their taxes are spent. Members of CofE Catholics Jews Muslims all contribute to school funding. Difficult to think of another parallel in public expenditure where it would also be feasible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    "Labour's policy on free schools is so tortured they should send in the UN to end the suffering"

    Ouch! But you can't really argue with it...I don't think I've seen so much backtracking on all kinds of policies like I have with Labour these last few weeks

  • rate this

    Comment number 357.

    353 stewing
    Hi,hope your well!?
    Well,thanks if "own"was directed at me?
    If you knew my background,zero education,and where my child is,it would simply not make any sense,not that I think your wrong in general of course,but I am one of,or should I say,my child is one of the exceptions!
    Try very poor,crime,major family issues,etc etc etc
    Thanks for report though!!
    Sorry for the imposed delay!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    DW I am not a bigot, I am well read and educated - as it happens in a Catholic School, which is one reason why I am an atheist and more importantly a secularist. My children are kind, considerate, polite, free thinking human beings. Your relationship with your religion or god is exactly that - yours and it should not be in schools unless it's part of RE lessons teaching about all religions,

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    for the beginning it would be nice to stop the continuous flow of uncontrolled migration, and then address the issues with schools.

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    349 Gerald
    The top schools today for academic achievement are not private schools but state grammar schools.
    Although the top private schools are outstanding many private schools do not select on ability and are academically mediocre.
    All state grammar schools, such as those in Kent, Birmingham, Warwickshire and Northern Ireland on the other hand select on ability and are outstanding.

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    @gerald. From the other evening but still very relevant here. Background is the single most important factor in determining educational outcome. I seem to remember some study found this to be by at least a factor of ten over the next one. TBF can't find any ref for that at minute..However
    You underestimate your own influence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    334 Anglerfish
    "politicians value only the academic"
    Slightly disingenuous no,replace "politician" with employer?
    Jobs increasingly in the west are about the use of your brain not your hands( I know you can use both)but you take my point I trust.
    Sciences,languages,Maths are the future in the west to remaining in decently paid employment for the majority,check unemployed teenagers subjects+grades


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