The UK Labour party's new shadow education minister Tristram Hunt has made an instant splash shortly after taking his post, coming under harsh criticism from the opposition, charging him and his party with inconsistency after pledging to support parents and teachers who want to set up new schools.
Encouraging new academy-style schools has drawn criticism from Conservatives who say the pledge is insincere and runs contrary to the âfree schools' revolution launched by Michael Gove after the 2010 Election.
As BBC News reports, Tristram Hunt is no stranger to education controversy. In 2010, shortly after becoming the newly elected MP for Stoke-on-Trent, an excited Hunt called free schools a "vanity project for yummy mummies". He apologized for those comments during his first interview as Labour's shadow education minister, a post that he took over from Stephen Twigg.
Hunt, who was promoted to the shadow cabinet in last week's Labour reshuffle, told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 that he supported parent-led academies.
"I am in favor of parent-led academies which are going to be good parent-led academies. And we will keep the good free schools when we get into government. But have no doubt, what we have seen recently is an ideological experiment with our young people," he said.
This intervention shows that Hunt is following in the footsteps of his predecessor Stephen Twigg. Twigg had outlined plans for parents to be allowed to set up academies – subject to more stringent oversight than Gove's free schools – in his "No School Left Behind" speech in June.
Hunt, citing the case of the Al-Madinah free school in Derby which was closed for a week earlier this month on the first day of an Ofsted inspection, said that Labour would not allow schools to become an "ideological experiment". The head teacher of the school, in defense, said that there were areas that the school wanted to address and that it was cooperating with Ofsted. However this was not enough to prevent Lord Nash, the education minister, from firing a warning towards the school that it would be closed unless unacceptable teaching standards improved.
"What is going on with the Al-Madinah school is a terrifying example of the mistakes of Michael Gove's education policy," he said.
Parent-led academies, just like free schools, will be set up by local parents and teachers and will be able to set their own curriculum, decide teachers' pay and have their own âethos'. However, unlike free schools, PLAs will only be allowed where there is a shortage of school places. Town halls will still be able to step in – though only in a crisis – and there will be curbs on âuntrained' teachers.
Through parent led academies, parent groups and other organizations would be enabled to set up schools outside local authority control under Labour's plans, but when there are concerns over standards, local authorities would have greater powers to intervene.
"If you are a group of parents, social entrepreneurs and teachers interested in setting up a school in areas where you need new school places, then the Labor government will be on your side," said Lord Nash. "We are in favor of enterprise and innovation."