Ed Howker

Exclusive: Gove’s free school policy gets Labour support, finally

This week’s Spectator reveals the rather tantalizing fact that Peter Hyman, Tony Blair’s former director of strategy, is setting up a Free School in East London. This – I kid you not – is a very good thing. Newham School 21 will teach kids between the ages of 4 and 18 – an ambitious span of ages – and will open its gates in September 2012 if all goes to plan.

Whatever you think about Blair, Hyman is a quietly impressive figure, coining the phrase “Education, Education, Education” and then leaving Downing Street in 2003 to become a teaching assistant. Now, as the deputy head of a school in Ealing, Hyman could not be better placed to start a “free school” and his plans have the blessing of those at the very highest levels of Labour politics, I’m told. Andrew Adonis, the architect of Labour’s Academy program to which Gove’s “Free Schools” are natural successors, has given informal advice as have several others.

Of course, the last thing Hyman would like is for his plans to be pastiched as a “New Labour free school in waiting” and nor should they be. They are the painstaking work of an education reformer committed to improving the lives of young people, not an act of mere spin. But it’s impossible not to notice that only a few months have passed since Ed Balls described Michael Gove’s policy as “the most socially divisive education experiment for 60 years”. Peter Hyman, at least, plainly disagrees.

UPDATE: Toby Young has written his thoughts here.

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