Michael Gove, Britain’s Education Minister, has expressed displeasure with the vehemence displayed by opponents of free schools – the charter-like schools which are publicly funded but subject to private control – who have turned to threats of violence or even death against people contemplating opening or applying such institutions in their neighborhoods. Graeme Paton, writing for The Daily Telegraph, reports that Gove has described several incidents of such harassment against parents, administrators and even teachers who have been “hounded out of their jobs” for expressing support for Coalition’s flagship education initiative.
Gove expressed concerns that the number of such incidents will spike now that the Department of Education has been forced to make public the list of organizations that have applied for permission to open free schools around the country.
The data shows that over 500 applications have been submitted since the Department of Education began accepting them two years ago. About a quarter of the applications come from faith-based organizations, including Muslim, Orthodox Jewish, Sikh, Hindu and Greek Orthodox.
The DfE had opposed a Freedom of Information request for the data, claiming that naming applicants before bids were provisionally approved would deter future organisations from coming forward. Free schools have proved hugely unpopular with teaching unions and left-wing pressure groups who claim they are undemocratic and may pull pupils away from existing schools – placing them under threat of closure. But Mr Gove claimed that opposition to the scheme had “gone further than normal healthy debate”, with at least one applicant facing death threats and others losing their jobs.
Gove mentioned these incidents in a letter to the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, who ordered the release of the information to the public. In the letter Gove said that there have already been incidents of threats against free school supporters and the number can be expected the rise once the list of applicants hits the streets.
He blamed “hostile publicity campaigns” run by free school opponents for the tenor of the disagreement, vilifying and encouraging their supporters to vilify anyone in any way attached to the free school movement.
The British Humanist Association originally submitted an FOI request for data about the religious affiliations of organisations seeking to open free schools. The request was turned down by the DfE but subsequently overturned by the Information Commissioner. Free schools have been opposed by teaching unions such as the National Union of Teachers and the NASUWT. They have also been attacked by the Social Workers Party.