Delegates at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference in Manchester, England say that Michael Gove, UK Education Secretary, is allowing “corporate greed” to destroy the state school system. Richard Garner, education editor for The Independent, reports that teachers are concerned about financial mismanagement in free schools (similar to US charter schools) and academies.
Mr. Gove plans to set up a a free sixth-form college (usually 16-19 year-old students preparing for advanced school-level qualification) at a cost of £45 million, when other sixth-forms were being cut by 40%. His idea of allowing parents to be a part of setting up neighborhood schools has now turned into schools established and run by “academy chains”.
£77 million has been spent on consulting fees, which could have been used for students’ education. Other accusations include cronyism, profiteering, blind dogma, corruption, and ineffective, inadequate free schools.
Later Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt told the conference that his party would scrap the free schools programme.
He said existing free schools and those in the pipeline would be allowed to remain open, although he expressed fears that Mr. Gove would rush through new applications in the run-up to the General Election next year.
Because of this, Tristram fears that many free schools would be “thrown up” and resulting in more school failures. A spokesman for the Department for Education (DfE) retorted that there are free schools that offer low-income students a top-quality sixth-form education. He added that any inadequate school would be expected to improve quickly or there would be “tough action”.
Still the specter of political ramifications floats over Gove. A leaked document warned that if any more free schools were found to be “inadequate”, there should be fast and furious intervention. Reporters Daniel Boffey and Warwick Mansell of The Observer have written that the bad publicity of the last few months connected to Gove’s policy of permitting schools to be set up “outside the supervision of local education authorities” could result in grave political embarrassment for the Education Secretary.
Sir Michael Wilshaw, Chief Inspector of Schools in England and head of Ofsted, Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills, has graded several of Gove’s free-schools as inadequate. More public reports of below standard grades for the schools would be excellent political fodder. The writer of the leaked document suggests that party politics is now controlling education policy a full year before the general election.
A swift fix to save embarrassment is not realistic, say the reporters from The Observer. About 350 schools are now in the process of taking special action toward improving the ratings they received from Ofsted. The process can take as much as a year to complete.
The document also says that, historically, free schools face “new school” issues that are not always educational in nature. Situations like temporary sites, inexperienced organizations that are managing the schools, precarious principal appointments, and unprepared senior leadership teams take time to balance out.
A Department for Education( DfE) spokesman has said:
“We do not comment on leaked documents. We have consistently demonstrated that where we find failure – whether in council-run schools, academies or free schools – we act quickly and decisively. The vast majority of free schools that have been inspected so far are performing well. In the last month alone Dixons Trinity Academy and Reach Academy have been rated outstanding by Ofsted despite opening only 18 months ago, and five more have been rated good.”