Chalk Talk: The free schools movement gets off to a very chilly start

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The Independent Online

To the first free schools conference on Saturday, held at Westminster Academy, an academy established under the Labour programme, where millions have been splashed out to give the pupils swanky new buildings.

Only one trouble: the heating didn't work. It was almost as if the Department for Education wanted to emphasise to the free school fraternity that the condition of the buildings doesn't matter so long as you have inspirational teaching.

David Bell, Permanent Secretary at the DfE, explained the dilemma to us. Apparently, with its new conference hall, you could either have the electronics working, so you could hear the speakers, or the heating. They thought that, having travelled from far and wide to listen to the speakers, we would go for the electronics option.

Tough call, but on balance I think they got it right. Seems a shame, though, that you can't have both when so much much money has been shelled out.

Meanwhile, Education Secretary Michael Gove was put on the spot by one of the questioners, who asked him – I paraphrase – if we are to have freedom from the national curriculum, does that mean we can teach the pupils about creationism and intelligent design?

Quite a long and intelligent answer came from Gove, during which he talked about the need for academic rigour and the need to be "very careful" about promoting particular religious ideologies in the classroom.

Somehow a refrain from a Meatloaf song came into my head: "I would do anything for love, but I won't do that." In other words, you can teach anything you like but you can't teach that.

While on the subject of the Education Secretary, I wondered how the conversation had gone with Gove's wife, the Times columnist Sarah Vine, over the breakfast table that morning.

In her column that day, she had referred to Labour being against the principle of academies while extolling the virtues of one, Burlington Danes in Hammersmith and Fulham, west London.

It was Labour who first set up the academies programme, even though the Coalition Government has expanded it. Burlington Danes is one of those old-style academies set up under Labour – where the new academy takes over the job of a challenged inner city school.