Peter Hoskin

Freedom for schools

Freedom for schools
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David Cameron and his front-benchers seem to be reeling off one impressive speech after another at the moment.  And today Michael Gove continued the run, with a key address on the inequalities which blight the British schools system.  It’s well-worth reading in full – for the revealing statistics and fizzy slogans – but Gove’s impassioned plea for school independence jumped out at me:

“What allows [successsful] schools to operate in the way they do are structures which are truly liberal...

...academies, and the city technology colleges which came before them and on which they were modelled, were designed to be free.

Free to choose and shape their own curriculum.

Free to hire and reward their own staff in their own way.

Free to co-operate and collaborate with who they wanted, in the private and public sector, in the way they wanted.

Free to exclude disruptive pupils and set their own discipline policies.

Free, above all, from local authority control.

Talking to the headteachers who have presided over such dramatic improvements and such superb results in these schools and one thing resonates as they explain their success.

They were able to transform their schools because they were liberated from the bureaucracy. And the bureaucracy from which they were liberated was - in Lewisham, or in Hackney, or in Manchester - the Labour-run bureaucracy which had presided over, tolerated, entrenched failure for years.”

Fraser’s right to warn the Tories that Brown might be stepping on their patch when it comes to education reform.  But Gove’s words reveal the true, ideological gulf between the two parties.  Never has the Prime Minister – or a member of his Cabinet – presented so unmitigated a case for school independence.  Indeed, Team Brown has actually done a lot to roll back the freedom enjoyed by academies – wedding them more closely to the national curriculum, among other measures.  In this case, I suspect the rhetorical divide marks out another divide – on one side lies a real commitment to academies, and on the other lies political opportunism.