While there will be plenty of ideological opposition to the Education Secretary Michael Gove's school choice reforms there will also be opposition to it on administrative grounds. Bureaucrats fret about "surplus places." Most inconvenient. They like to allocate the children to be available places and then it can all run smoothly. But parental choice gums up the works. Hands up all those willing to send their children to dud schools for the great glory of avoiding surplus places?
The solution is to close the half empty schools. But that is a hassle for the bureaucrats and – and also for the councillors who then find children pitch up at the Town Hall for demos waving placards declaring: "Save our school."
This is why you will have some Conservative as well as Labour Councils fighting the establishment of free schools. We can see it coming from half way round the block. ("With the Labour Council we know where we are," says Blogs Free Schools Trust. "They are hostile. With the Tory Councilsthey are supportive in principle but when it comes to it found reasons to make life as difficult as possible…") That won't be enough to stop the revolution if Michael Gove shows the determination needed.
Over on The Spectator Coffee House there is a piece about Bromley Council saying they will only allow Harris to sponsor one of their schools, the Kelsey Park Sports College, if it became an academy with a 50/50 split. Academies have too little freedom as it is without handing back half of it.
The report suggests that a Beckenham Free School will be set up instead. Good. There may be a year's delay which is regrettable. But Free Schools are when it comes down to it, independent schools. Academies are, when it come down to it, state schools. This is, of course, a generalisation. Academies have important extra freedom and have had some impressive results. Nor will Free Schools have complete freedom – I was horrified to hear of one proposed Free School being asked by the Department of Education how it would "deliver" the Citizenship curriculum. There is a lot of detail to thrash out. But conflating academies with free schools is a misunderstanding. I predict they will prove very different animals.
Is Cllr Ernest Noad, Bromley's Executive Cabinet Member for Children and Young People, crazed with power? Is he gripping with hisfinger nails to keep Kelsey Park within his empire? His colleague Cllr Nick Bennett suggests the truth is less exciting:
Because Kelsey Park remains at the moment in the ‘Notice to Improve’ category despite being a Foundation School the Council has a legal duty to work in partnership with the school to raise standards and secure satisfactory performance within 12 months of the November 2009 inspection. The summer GCSE results showed a 25% increase from 2009 in the number of pupils receiving 5 A*-C grades.
The Harris into Beckenham campaign which began in June 2010 is predicated upon a single solution to the exclusion of any other including other sponsors. Kelsey Park is a foundation school and it is
therefore a matter for the Governing Body not the LA. The School is currently consulting parents and the wider community on a range of options including Academy, Trust or Federation status. Currently although the GCSE results have improved dramatically, the school does not qualify under the criteria set out by the DES. No doubt these will be widened in the future include any school which wishes to apply for academy status.
Nick says Bromley wants to see free schools start up in the borough,and also want to see more academies. Maybe all these procedural difficulties he described above are intractable. Maybe Cllr Noad could have done more to overcome them if he really wanted.
The point is that I want the Harris Federation to get stuck into starting up Free Schools. In Nick's borough. In my borough. In Lewisham, Croydon, Lambeth, Southwark and Wandsworth. However reasonable or unreasonable Cllr Noad is being, they are no longer beholden to him. Or his opposite numbers. They have been set free.