Are free schools too free?

Should free schools be forced to employ only teachers whose qualifications are approved by Whitehall, to teach only in line with the national curriculum and to feed children only if the food meets national guidelines?

Yes, says Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

No, says Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove.

But what does his deputy, the schools minister David Laws - a Liberal Democrat - think? His is the one voice which has been missing over a weekend of controversy.

I'm glad to say that he joins me on the line now*:

Q: Can you clear up the confusion about whether free schools are too free to do what they like?

A: There really isn't any confusion. You should pay more attention in class.

Q: Well, let's see by starting with those unqualified teachers. Should free schools be barred from employing them?

A: There are plenty of teachers who may not have formal qualifications but who still do a superb job. We are ensuring, through the Ofsted inspection process, that every single teacher has the capability to teach. All classes are assessed for quality, and that is the right way to ensure a backstop of high standards.**

Q: Well that's clear enough. So, why did your leader - the man you're writing a manifesto for - say something quite different?

A: Hold on. You didn't ask me the question as a Liberal Democrat. You asked me as a minister.

Q: Are you suggesting that would make a difference?

A: Well, why don't you try me?

Q: OK then - speaking as a Lib Dem should free schools be barred from employing unqualified teachers?

A: Yes. Our party opposes the use of unqualified teachers as Nick Clegg made perfectly clear.

Q: So you're opposed to an idea that you're implementing as schools minister?

A: No, I back government education policy at all times. I just think it should be different.

Q: So, will you change the policy?

A: We would change it after the next election, which is what Nick Clegg is saying in his big speech on education this week and what I will be saying when I write the Lib Dem manifesto.

Q: So, you want voters to know that you're opposed to some of the things you're doing in government?

A: That's it. You've got it. It wasn't that complicated was it?

Q: One last question before you go. Wasn't Nick Clegg educated in a rather good school with lots of unqualified teachers?

A: He was and I have heard him say how excellent they were but state schools are very different.

Q: In what way?

A: Because you have to get elected to run them and saying you're against unqualified teachers in state schools is very popular and makes you look different from those posh, ideological Tories.

Minister, thank you. I think that clears things up.

* This is, as I hope is obvious, an imaginary interview.

** This is a direct quote from David Laws in the House of Commons on Thursday.

Nick Robinson, Political editor Article written by Nick Robinson Nick Robinson Political editor

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