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Coalition faces Lib Dem revolt on free schools

Michael Crick | 18:39 UK time, Friday, 30 July 2010

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September's Lib Dem conference in Liverpool will be a pretty tame affair, I predict, since most Liberal Democrats are still on cloud nine over the fact they are now in government for the first time in 65 years.

The biggest controversy, I reckon, could well be over a motion denouncing Michael Gove's radical policies on free schools and academies.

The resolution has been specifically picked by Lib Dem conference organisers for a substantial debate.

First, it calls for local councils to keep their role in the "oversight" of the provision of state schools. This is quite contrary to Gove's strategy of greatly reducing local authority involvement in education.

And second, the resolution urges Liberal Democrats not to get involved in Michael Gove's cherished new policy of free schools.

Given how important local councillors are in the structure of the Liberal Democrat Party and the prevalence of teachers in the party, there must be a pretty good chance that the motion will be passed.

The motion is the work of Peter Downes, a retired headmaster and Lib Dem councillor from Huntingdon.

I first encountered Downes more than 40 years ago when he was an incredibly dynamic French teacher at my old school, the fee-paying (and highly selective) Manchester Grammar School.

Downes subsequently became head of Hinchingbrooke School in Huntingdon, which was widely acknowledged to be one of the best comprehensives in Britain. And Downes became a prominent champion of state, comprehensive, and non-selective schools.

Indeed, it always puzzled Peter Downes (and slightly miffed him, I suspect) that his former MP in Huntingdon, John Major, sent his own children to a nearby private school instead.

Yet Hinchingbrooke was by most measures a better school than the one Major chose for his kids, and certainly a lot cheaper.

It's a sign perhaps of how much the Conservative Party has changed in the last few years, that recent leaders, such as William Hague and David Cameron, have both committed themselves to use the state school system.


  • Comment number 1.


    The school my sons attended, blithely listed passes in Physics, but made no mention of the 'limited' nature of the Physics teacher. It was general practice in the area to get private tuition.

    Would I be right in guessing Dave and Billy can afford private tuition as required? Will they pledge no cheating? One for Michael to ask.

  • Comment number 2.

    LibDems coming to Lpool...goodee, we can give them a right scouse, not...

  • Comment number 3.

    English education is now third rate. Thatcher started the decline and Labour failed to recover the mess. The new changes being introduced by Cameron AND Clegg will further deteriorate our failing education system.

    At least the Scottish have the sense to keep their education standards higher and don't jump at the chance of following every little fad that comes from the equally failing US education system.

    Politicians from all parties have failed English kids for generations and now the Liberals are going to be guilty of it too. It's shameful.

  • Comment number 4.

    Why don't we study and copy the Finnish education system. It is the finest state system in the western world cosistently topping international tests. It is so good private education hardly exists there. Now thats what i call equality!

    I just don't understand why we are looking to Sweden when if anything they are slightly below us in international tests. They have also admitted themselves that 'free schools' have not improved their educational standards.

    David Cameron was absolutely right that private education creates a huge inequality in this country. But his solution is free shools! I feel this is just a gimmick to placate people.

    It really gets on my nerves that 70% of the cabinet are privately educated when that is a privilage that only 7% enjoy.

  • Comment number 5.

    It is a shame Diane Abbott hasn't send her child to a state school !

  • Comment number 6.

    Icebloo. I am afraid you are misinformed. England has improved considerably over the last ten years and regularly outperforms Scotland in international tests. As Depman says, it also outperforms Sweden (and most of Europe, most English speaking countries etc). However, Finland does continue to be the 'gold standard'.

  • Comment number 7.


    The school my sons attended, rigged the exam results and then self-declared performance 'excellent'. In a host of ways, that school was a microcosm of England.

    No doubt the performance improvement of England that you cite is by an 'independent body'?

    I wonder: how competent are the Finns at life - overall?

    We English 'school for Mammon'. I would like to see us 'prepare' our young for life, by the most agreeable and conducive means. Before we can approach such a radical change, we will need to be governed by mature, competent grown-ups. Far to go before I sleep.

  • Comment number 8.

    shock horror..Diane sends her kid to private school, all the Tory front bench done it for centuries and yet not a peep out of selective the memory banks are...maybe it was her choice and we all love choice don't we, Margaret,,,

  • Comment number 9.

    it has been a long time since I felt like hugging a Lib Dem, but I wanted to when I watched this. Keep up the fight.

  • Comment number 10.

    There are only two sorts of school: good ones and bad ones.

    The bad ones are not exclusive to the state sector.

    A good state school will stand up to the private sector very well.

    The trouble with the state system is that it gets interfered with by politicians and bureaucrats, both of whom have agendas that conflict with education.

    The Finnish system is superior because of the teacher-pupil ratio. Therein lies the key to success which is why the British won't do anything about it: so let's have yet another reorganisation. Such fun! Look at all the money we can waste! Ah, but nobody would get meetings with biscuits without it.....

  • Comment number 11.


    But it is rank hypocrisy for a "socialist" to send her child to a private school when state education is so "excellent" !


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