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Monday, 17 June 2013

When is a free school not a free school? When Stephen Twigg is trying to appease the teaching unions

The Tories have attacked the Shadow Education Secretary, Stephen Twigg, after his appearance on the BBC's Today programme. Mr Twigg said on Today: "Existing free schools will stay open, free schools in the pipeline will go ahead, but we will not have additional free schools" He went on to say "What we will have is a new academies programme including parent-led academies, really good teacher-led academies like Peter Hyman’s school in East London - those sorts of things" the Tories point out that "Peter Hyman’s school is a free school" and what Mr Twigg described for his academies as "exactly what free schools are".

They also accuse Mr Twigg and Labour of being in "disarray" over the policy. Mr Twigg made a speech to the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts in which he said: "Under Michael Gove’s policy, millions have been spent opening schools in areas with a surplus of places, while children elsewhere face a shortage of places. This is not just wasteful, it is a scandal. It should be the first duty of any Education Secretary to ensure that every child has a place at one of their local schools'. He also said ‘Labour’s vision for creating new schools is… where priority is given to setting up new schools where they are needed most, particularly in areas with a shortage of places."

But the former Education Minister the Lord Andrew Adonis has contradicted Stephen Twigg by saying free schools should open where there are not enough ‘good quality’ places. In his blog, Andrew Adonis says: "Labour will rightly locate new academies in areas – and there are plenty of them – where there is a shortage of good quality school places’". Stephen Twigg does not include the "good quality" caveat.

Just on Saturday Labour spinners briefed the Daily Mirror, for a story which was published on Sunday, saying: "Stephen Twigg will announce parents would be welcome to set up their own schools – but with tough controls. Labour is set to drop its ­opposition to free schools in a major change in policy. Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg will announce next week that parents would be welcome to set up their own schools – as long as there is a strong demand in their area. Mr Twigg will announce in the same speech that council-run schools could have the same freedoms as academies for hiring staff and deciding the curriculum. A source said Labour was looking to give schools more independence, but added: “They must also be accountable. That means not having unqualified staff or refusing to make accounts public"

However only hours later the BBC's education correspondent Angela Harrison tweeted yesterday afternoon: ‘Labour say the Mirror story about its policy on free schools is “highly speculative, misleading and ill informed”

Education Secretary Michael Gove In response to Stephen Twigg’s speech on schools policy said: "Labour’s policy on free schools is so tortured they should send in the UN to end the suffering. On the one hand Stephen 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. As Andrew Adonis has said this morning, 'free schools are academies without a predecessor school'. When is a free school not a free school? When Stephen Twigg is trying to appease the teaching unions.

"Stephen Twigg also says it’s a “scandal” to set up new schools in areas where existing schools are failing and parents have no choice. We don’t think it’s a scandal, we think it’s vital. Too often the poorest families are left with the worst schools. Stephen Twigg is failing to help the poorest and failing to stand up to unions. It’s the same old Labour."