Michael Gove's unruly behaviour

Most primary free schools are in areas that need places, but expansion should not be at the expense of other schools

 

Share

The coalition parties are playing politics with children's future. Allies of David Laws, the Liberal Democrat Education minister, accuse Michael Gove, the Secretary of State, of "zealotry"; the Conservatives have responded in kind.

As we report today, the Lib Dems say that Mr Gove has commandeered £400m from other parts of the education budget to pay for his "ideological" free schools, which are costing more than expected. The Conservatives say that their so-called partners are engaging in "differentiation" purely to try to mobilise what is left of their core vote for the European Parliament and local elections next week.

Let us try to disentangle the games-playing from the policy. There is certainly a difference of emphasis on schools reform between Mr Gove and Mr Laws, although it is much less than the Lib Dems pretend. Mr Laws was an advocate of schools autonomy and took the side of Tony Blair and Andrew Adonis when the Labour government was divided over academies.

Now the debate has moved on. Academies have become the accepted and most prevalent type of state secondary school in England, while the Government has divided over the next phase: free schools.

Free schools are simply academies that do not replace an existing school. They are an intensification of the academies programme, but as yet provide for only a small minority of pupils. The Independent on Sunday supports free schools in principle, because we believe in as many different kinds of school as possible, offering the best chance that every child can find the kind of teaching that allows them to make the best of their talents.

The spread of the academy model to nearly every secondary school in England is more important than a few free schools, however, as is the continuing need to improve school leadership and teacher standards.

There are problems with the free schools programme, as the Public Accounts Committee, led by Margaret Hodge, reported last week. Control of costs does seem inconsistent, and there are questions about fairness of funding between free schools, academies and other schools, the last of which may feel they are treated as third class. Most primary free schools are in areas where there is demand for new school places, and so some expansion of the free-schools budget is justified, but this should not be at the expense of other schools.

None of this, however, justifies the games played by coalition politicians as they engage in conscious uncoupling. Mr Gove, although unusually courteous in his personal dealings, cannot resist the temptation to provoke those who disagree with him and to regard that disagreement as a vindication. By describing any opposition to his ideas as a manifestation of "The Blob", his phrase for adherents of orthodoxy, he makes it harder to build support for his changes.

Equally, the Lib Dems are guilty of point-scoring. Nick Clegg's plan for free school meals for all five- to seven-year-olds was dreamt up to give him something to announce at last year's party conference. It is a worthy idea but expensive, and somewhat weakens the force of Mr Laws's complaint that Mr Gove is taking money from the mainstream schools budget. Mr Laws is, in any case, engaged in low politics. His party's private polling recently suggested that one of the best ways of persuading Lib-Dem-leaning voters was to attack Mr Gove.

This is a poor advertisement for coalition politics. Instead of trying to resolve a minor difference about the fair allocation of funding for new school places, Mr Gove and Mr Laws have put pupils' interest second to trying to impress their own supporters.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Software Developer is require...

Recruitment Genius: Logistics Supervisor

£24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest supplier to the UK'...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate / Junior Software Developer

£24000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate/Junior Software Deve...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Store Sales Executive

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An experienced Sales Executive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Yorkshire Terrier waits to be judged during the Toy and Utility day of the Crufts dog show at the NEC in Birmingham  

There are no winners at Crufts. Dogs deserve better than to suffer and die for a 'beauty' pageant

Mimi Bekhechi
 

Daily catch-up: how come Ed Miliband’s tuition fee ‘cut’ is so popular, then?

John Rentoul
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn