Fraser Nelson

Another obstacle in the way of free schools

Another obstacle in the way of free schools
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A few weeks ago, I wrote a cover story about how teachers' unions are trying to strangle the Gove schools agenda at birth. But I fear it is facing an even greater, more immediate threat: basic bungling by government departments.

The FT today says that the Department of Transport wants to make sure that local authorities keep the right to veto a new school. Armed with such a weapon, it is a sure way of crushing any competition. The DoT's argument is staggeringly banal: that a new school may play havoc with the traffic. If you're a local authority, wanting to use any means possible to stop a new school competing with the ones you run, it's all the excuse you need.

The Swedish model (sorry) works because there is a central planning agency which gives permission - and grants it in almost all cases. One major flaw in the Gove plan is that there is no similar agency, clearing the way for new schools. That means the entire project could be crushed by a Whitehall turf war.

What Gove needs now is the fulsome support of No.10, so Cameron can tell the DoT that this is mission-critical, and that the school reform project will fail if the councils have any power to blackball under any pretext. It would be a tragedy if Gove and Clegg braced themselves to do battle with the teaching unions only to be sunk by simple failure of government co-ordination.