Education Secretary Michael Gove tells Channel 4 News the prime minister has told him to “get a move on” with widening choice in education, as the government’s free school policy falls under scrutiny.
Michael Gove told Political Editor Gary Gibbon at the Conservative party conference: “David wants his children to go to state school and he’s told me that I’d better get a move on to make sure he has as wide a choice as possible. He wants to make sure that he has a truly broad spectrum.”
His words came however as one policy aimed at broadening the schools spectrum – the free schools model – was criticised as the government’s “biggest gamble” with education.
Mr Gove told Channel 4 News he was “hugely proud of what the people who have set up (free) schools have achieved”.
He added: “We do need more school places overall, the population growing and we are targeting free schools in areas of population growth, but we also need to make sure that we don’t stifle the entry of new providers who can raise the quality of education.”
David wants his children to go to state school and he’s told me that I’d better get a move on. Michael Gove
Meanwhile, at a fringe meeting schools minister Nick Gibb was challenged over the free schools policy by a former Swedish teacher who said the model has widened the gap between the best and worst schools, and lowered overall standards in Sweden.
Mr Gibb was told that Sweden has slipped in the league tables, but was unable to reassure Conservative councillors in the audience that this was not the case.
Mr Gibb argued at the event that competition drives up standards in schooling.
However, Demitri Coryton, editor of Education Journal, told Channel 4 News: “The OECD says it does the opposite. Last month, the OECD’s head of statistics for education, Andreas Schleicher, proved this – but the message hasn’t got through to the schools minister.”
Research by the OECD showed that cooperation and accountability between schools and local authorities was key, while competition tends to push standards down.
The free schools programme is the biggest gamble. Demitri Coryton, editor of Education Journal
John Dixon, assistant secretary of the National Union of Teachers, told Channel 4 News there were widespread concerns that the free schools model will take money away from rival state schools nearby.
The Department for Education has yet to reveal how the free schools model will be funded, with Mr Gibb confirming today: “The government is currently looking at the funding formula.”
Mr Coryton told Channel 4 News: “While the coalition’s model of academies is in many ways better than Labour’s, the free schools programme is the biggest gamble.”
Mr Dixon added: “Free schools are an experiment, the results of which are not based on evidence. The government is rushing headlong into this and research does not back it up.”
But Charlie Dewhirst, Conservative councillor for the Hammersmith and Fulham ward of Ravenscourt Park, where Toby Young’s West London Free School recently opened, welcomed the addition of a new school to the area.
He told Channel 4 News: “It’s the first time the majority of the children that have grown up in the borough are being educated in the borough – thanks to the academies and free schools programme.”
The list of free schools set to open in 2012 was due to be published by the Department for Education last month. It has yet to materialise however, leaving us none the wiser of the previously promised “several hundreds” of new schools due to open.
Last month, 24 free schools opened across England.