While giving evidence to the UK House of Commons education committee, schools minister David Laws has defended the idea that locating free schools in areas where spare places already exist, or high quality schools exist, is good policy. Laws believes that ultimately the parents should decide if the free schools have a place in their community, because it is they who pay the taxes which in turn funds the schools, writes Richard Adams of The Guardian.
Look, the parents will decide. If they don’t want to go to the free schools that you are talking about then that will be evident and the free schools will presumably not be around for very long,” Laws said. “If those [free] schools open in areas where all the schools are popular and outstanding, they won’t do very well.”
Laws says that 7 out of 10 schools are constructed in locations where there is a shortage of places, so it’s not that free schools are a complete waste of space. The presence of free schools makes for a wider selection for parents when they decide which school is best for their child, he says.
Some parents are very specific about how they want their child to be taught, and the ability to seek out that specific type of education is provided by free schools. The alternative is school choice that is less local, which would see the child sent to a free school in a different borough, increasing travel time for the child.
Additionally, Laws defended the actions that the government took to increase funding as a result of increased birthrate and a rapid rise in the need for primary school places. In total, 12 billion pounds ($18 billion USD) is being spent on a free schools program and on the increased demand for special needs places.
Laws said he was against local authorities using what he called “exotic solutions that most of our constituents would think were mad” to cure the shortage of primary school places, such as the radical measures being considered in some parts of London, including “mega-schools” with pupils sitting in split shifts.
Labour MP Siobhain Mcdonagh challenged some of the national figures given out by Laws, claiming that the building of each primary school more in her area than what the national average suggests.
Laws was unmoved by her testimony.
“I don’t know what kind of classes they are building in your area, they sound pretty nice. They must have a waiting room area for the local MP,” Laws said.