|Brent and Kilburn Times, April 5th, 2012|
This week's Brent and Kilburn Times carries front page coverage of the story I initially broke on March 6th LINK about Brent Labour considering setting up a free school to address the shortage of school places. They don't give an account of the row I reported within the Labour group on March 9th LINK but quote lead member for Children and Families, Cllr Mary Arnold, on the dilemma facing the Council.
Although no decision has been made as yet, Arnold fears that free schools could be forced 'upon us' and states that the council wants free schools to have a connection with the local authority: 'we are taking a responsible look at providing places for our children. A lot of councils are looking for partners'.
Labour's stance on this hasn't been helped by Michael Gove's Labour shadow, Stephen Twigg's ambivalence on he issue. He told the BBC on March 20th that more places to address the shortage should be funded, rather than building of free schools, stating that these would not necessarily be provided in the areas of greatest need. LINK However he went on to say that some of the schools built could be free schools.
This still leaves unanswered the issue of democratic accountability, selection by the back door, and the undermining of the local authority's ability to coherently plan school places provision.
I wrote on March 9th:
This debate need to move outside the Labour Party so that Brent teachers and parents have a say in the future of educational provision in the borough. Free schools do not have the democratic accountability of local authority schools, take a disproportionate amount of funding and open the way to experimental teaching and curricula with a potentially damaging impact on children. As with the ARK Academy the first free school in Brent will open the way for others to follow, producing an ad hoc competitive system where working class children may well lose out.This view is echoed in the Brent and Kilburn Times editorial this week:
Not only do the teaching unions and their members need to play an integral part in the decision-making process, but parents must be allowed to air their concerns too. After all, it will be their children who will be expected to attend any free school that opens in Brent.We must ensure that this is one issue on which the Council must be fully transparent.