Leading article: Will David Laws remember his previous fears?

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The Independent Online

Now that we can study the full coalition agreement on education, it seems that the Conservatives have got through most of their reform agenda unscathed. The "statement of intent" that the new Education Secretary Michael Gove talked about during the campaign – the short, sharp bill to allow more schools to become academies – has been delivered. The general secretary of the Association of Schools and College Leaders John Dunford reckons that many secondary schools will opt for academy status, not just those declared "outstanding" by Ofsted whose applications for academy status will just go through on the nod.

Secondary schools will pursue academy status because they believe in the principle of being allowed to run their schools like private schools and because they think they are in for a more secure future if they opt for Whitehall funding than staying with local authorities who were this week told they must bear 20 per cent of George Osborne's public spending cuts. Of course, the jury is still out on the academies programme but it is worth noting that exam results on average have improved faster in academies than across the state sector as a whole.

Gove has got his plans for Swedish-style independent "free" schools through the coalition negotiating machinery. Here, however, it looks as though his wings have been clipped as the Liberal Democrats have insisted that freedoms offered to the "free" schools have to be offered to the rest of the state sector, too.

What is not clear is whether this compromise will mean less freedom for the "free" schools or more freedom for the state sector. We suspect the coalition is not yet clear on this either. What will have to be monitored is whether pushing ahead with new schools run by parents, teachers, faith groups or private companies will reduce the amount of funding available for the existing state sector. Ironically this was one of the criticisms levied at Gove's policy during the campaign by his then Liberal Democrat opponent David Laws. Laws is now Chief Secretary to the Treasury and the Government's "Witchfinder General" when it comes to public spending cuts. We hope he will remember the fears he expressed when he is sitting in judgement over the Department for Education's budget and we hope he will insist that the opening of any new schools will not be at the expense of giving sufficient funding for existing ones. We also hope that there will be plenty of people in his own party to remind him of his earlier statements.



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