Chalk Talk: More free schools won't necessarily mean more good schools


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The Independent Online

Just a comment on the announcement of the next tranche of free schools by Education Secretary Michael Gove.

In revealing that an extra 38 schools had been approved, he said: "Free schools are giving thousands of children from ordinary backgrounds the kind of education previously reserved for the rich and lucky."

Ouch. His comment seems to fall into the category of "free schools good, all maintained schools bad" that has irked many people in the world of education in recent years. I doubt whether pupils who had been enrolled at New Discovery School in Crawley, West Sussex – which had to be closed because of poor standards – would agree with that. Or those at the Al-Madinah Academy in Derby, which is to stop educating secondary pupils after a damning Ofsted report.

Now, I am not an outright opponent of free schools – some of the proposals put forward have been highly imaginative and offered something that could not be obtained in the existing state sector. Witness the two bilingual free schools – one in German and the other in Spanish – that were opened as part of an earlier tranche of proposals.

But the idea that all of them offer the kind of education only previously available to the rich and lucky? I think not.

And now over to Sir Roderick Floud, former head of Universities UK – the body that represents vice-chancellors – and a former vice-chancellor of London Metropolitan University. In an interview with the Times Higher Education magazine, he intimated that half the country's universities should close down, as part of a reform of the current "messy, muddled" higher education system.

On the face of it, it's a point of view with which he would find quite a few people are in agreement with. Until you discover that among those he says should be closing their doors to students are Oxford and Cambridge (which, he says, should then concentrate on research). I just cannot hear the clarion call for that out there in the sector (or the wider world).

It seems to me a case of "nurse, pass the salts, please" – and make sure Sir Rodney gets them as soon as possible.