20 Oct 2013

Clegg v Gove in battle over ‘ideological’ school reforms

The deputy prime minister says the national curriculum should be taught in every school and all teachers should be qualified. One free school founder tells Channel 4 News why he disagrees.

Nick Clegg is preparing to make a key policy speech this week, in which he will make a dramatic break away from the coalition’s education policy.

Parts of the speech were released over the weekend and lay out a shift in the Liberal Democrat leader’s education policy, including what appear to be reservations about the policies brought in by the coalition so far.

“Parents don’t want ideology to get in the way of their children’s education,” he will say.

Parents don’t want ideology to get in the way of their children’s education – Nick Clegg

In a direct confrontation to Education Secretary Michael Gove‘s flagship free school policy, which allows unqualified teachers to set up and run schools, Mr Clegg will say: “Frankly, it makes no sense to me to have qualified teacher status if only a few schools have to employ qualified teachers.”

In the address at a school in London, Mr Clegg will also ask: “What’s the point of having a national curriculum if only a few schools have to teach it? Let’s teach it in all our schools.”

‘I don’t agree with Nick’

Adam Dawson, founder and chair of Etz Chaim free school in north London said he has only recruited qualified teachers, even though the school is not obliged to, “because they have been the best candidates”. But he told Channel 4 News that free schools should be at liberty to make a decision on teachers themselves:

“I don’t however agree with Nick Clegg that everyone should be constrained to only employing those with the appropriate certificates – I think that there could be examples where recruiting more widely might work.”

The Mill Hill-based free school was rated Good by Ofsted earlier this year in its first inspection since opening in 2011. Mr Dawson told Channel 4 News there are “numerous” advantages to the free school system, naming the management of the budget, and the school calendar, among them. But he acknowledged the negative associations with some within the system:

“The reality for us is that we opened due to a massive demand for extra places in the location,” he said. “We are not, unlike some of the free schools opened, with any specific different ideologies than mainstream state schools.”

In a direct affront to Michael Gove, the deputy prime minister says the national curriculum should be taught in every school, and all teachers should be qualified, contrary to free schools policy (R)

Free schools in the spotlight

Free schools were established by Mr Gove in 2011, and there are now more than 170 in England. But Mr Clegg’s comments follow a week of controversy for the programme.

Last week, the headteacher of London’s Pimlico free school, Annaliese Briggs, who was not a qualified teacher, stood down after just three weeks following criticism.

The Al-Madinah free school in Derby also came under scrutiny and was put in special measures by Ofsted, with the Lib Dem Schools Minister David Laws saying it was “in chaos”.

Mr Clegg on Sunday denied that his comments signalled a “coalition crisis”, and told Sky News that he supports free schools in general, but backed some changes.

In his speech, he will say that schemes such as Teach First and Schools Direct have seen a “revolution” in the way teachers are recruited and trained, and will say that all teachers should have a qualification.

“What all of these routes have in common is that at the end of them you’re recognised as a qualified teacher,” he will say. “And I want every parent to know that their child will benefit from this kind of high quality teaching. That’s why I believe we should have qualified teachers in all our schools.”