Are free schools really more popular in Labour areas?

Recently The Telegraph reported that more free schools have been set up in areas controlled by Labour than any other political party.

Recently The Telegraph reported that more free schools have been set up in areas controlled by Labour than any other political party.

This, the paper argued, demonstrates “the popularity of the schools in the party’s heartlands” and will “pile pressure on Labour to reverse its opposition to the reforms”.

This might be the logical conclusion to draw if all types of school could be set up with comparable ease.

But they can’t.

Local authorities are legally responsible for ensuring that every child has a permanent school place but, since the introduction of the Education Act 2011, they are unable to open a new local authority maintained school if there is any group, business or established academy chain that would like to run the new school ‘as an Academy’ – in other words, as a free school.

What’s more, the Education Act 2011 obliges local authorities to actively ‘seek proposals’ for the establishment of any new school ‘as an Academy.’

In short, the law ensures that, wherever possible, new schools are established as free schools. Local authorities can only set up their own maintained schools if there is no approved bid to run the school as a free school and with the consent of the secretary of state.

As has been widely reported, many areas of the country are facing a chronic shortage of school places. Most of these shortages are in urban areas, where Labour support is strongest. When Labour councils act to meet their statutory duty by building more schools, many of those schools will therefore be free schools almost by default – hardly proof of their popularity.

Supporters of free schools may point to the fact that a free school provider must show that there is parental demand for the new school before it receives approval from Michael Gove. This is not too difficult in areas where there is severe pressure on places: support doesn’t necessarily mean that free schools are favoured – it could just be that parents are desperate for any type of school.

This raises a wider point when it comes to Labour’s education policy: would Tristram Hunt continue to rig the system in favour of free schools, or would he untie local authorities’ hands so that they can respond more effectively to the school places crisis?

6 Responses to “Are free schools really more popular in Labour areas?”

  1. mactheanti

    I think we need to wait and see the full education policy from Labour. But this report certainly clarifies the situation and once again we discover we are being totally mislead by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and the right wing press.

  2. robertcp

    It is hard to believe that local authorities cannot open local authority schools. That needs to be changed!

  3. robertcp

    It is hard to believe that local authorities cannot open local authority schools. That needs to be changed!

  4. robertcp

    It is hard to believe that local authorities cannot open local authority schools. That needs to be changed!

  5. robertcp

    It is hard to believe that local authorities cannot open local authority schools. That needs to be changed!

  6. robertcp

    It is hard to believe that local authorities cannot open local authority schools. That needs to be changed!

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