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Labour's stance on free schools continues to be utterly chaotic and opportunistic. This is one of the Government's flagship reforms yet it is impossible to come to a clear understanding as to whether Labour is for or against.

The Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg seems to be in favour. But now we have the Shadow education minister Catherine McKinnell speaking out against the prospect of one opening in her constituncy in Newcastle.

She says:

“It is particularly concerning that free schools remove funding from other schools and distract the Government from raising standards across the board.

“They also lack local accountability and the potential for having a negative impact on neighbouring schools is huge.

“Newcastle Council has a clear mission and has worked hard to drive up standards for all children across the city.

“It is therefore worrying that an outside organisation with no current involvement in providing secondary education for 11 to 16-year-olds can enter the frame and potentially destabilise that process.”

Newcastle schools – both primary and secondary – are performing below the national average. But there is also huge variation. For instance there are a couple of Roman Catholic primary schools that get 100% score on the number of children reaching the basic standard in English and maths. So that's fine if you are a Roman Catholic and happen to live near one of those schools. Or we can see that the Royal Grammar School has 100% of its pupils achieving at least five good GCSEs including English and maths. But its an independent school and the fees are £10,000 a year. What about the parents in Newcastle who aren't rich or Roman Catholic but still want excellent schooling for their children? They might, or might not, agree that the council "has worked hard to drive up standards." What is clear is that the council has not succeeded. If it had succeeded the council would not in a state of panic at the prospect of increased choice.

This "outside organisation" that Miss McKinnell refers to is Newcastle College. As a result of their plans to open a free school the Labour-run Council says it will also oppose their plans for a College of Engineering, one of the new University Technical College. So in the case of the UTC there is not even the pretence that the opposition is based on the merits of the proposal. It is openly a matter of political spite. Does Miss McKinnell oppose the UTC as well?

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