NUT and councillor clash over ‘free’ schools plan
Jan 4 2011 Huddersfield Daily Examiner
A KIRKLEES councillor went head-to-head with a trade union leader in a debate over controversial ‘free’ schools.
Clr Robert Light, who has been campaigning for a ‘free’ school in Birkenshaw, battled NUT general secretary Christine Blower on BBC Radio 5 yesterday morning.
The NUT opposes free schools, which are state-funded but largely independent of local authority control.
It is expected the first 25 free schools, which will be run by charities, universities, businesses, educational groups, teachers and parents, will open across 22 local authorities from September.
Last month two private companies and the Wakefield Diocese submitted bids to establish a free school on the site of Fartown High School.
But yesterday an NUT-commissioned YouGov survey of 1,021 parents, in areas approved for free schools, revealed that 31% were against setting one up in their area.
The study found 26% were in favour while 29% were neither in favour nor against.
Yesterday Ms Blower warned the Government to stop “playing with the educational future of this country” and scrap plans for “free” schools.
She said: “This survey clearly shows that parents are not clamouring to set up free schools, have no issue with schools being accountable to the community through democratically elected local authorities and absolutely reject the premise of their children’s education being handed over to private companies.
“Free Schools are not wanted or needed. They are divisive and unaccountable. The teaching profession and parents know this.
“It is time the Government stopped playing with the educational future of this country based on nothing more than the fact they can.”
But Clr Light, who has campaigned to establish a free school on the site of Birkenshaw Middle School, dismissed the NUT’s survey as ‘flawed’.
He said: “Free schools will have a very important role in a diverse education system to challenge mediocrity in secondary education.
“At a primary level Kirklees is above average but at a secondary level it is below average.
“Calderdale has a very similar make-up to Kirklees but it manages to perform above the national average. They have more diverse schools and academies.
“Since we started campaigning for a free school it’s made state schools examine their performance and realise they have to up their game.
“The NUT has conducted a flawed survey... There is no evidence because no free schools are up and running.
“Every major educational reform under any government has been opposed by the NUT. They are not in a great position to comment because they always stand in the way of improvements to education.”