I'm increasingly optimistic about Michael Gove's free school revolution. So far only 35 have been approved to an advanced stage. The process could and should be made less bureaucratic. Yet even so there is a sense of gathering momentum. Each day brings news of serious proposals coming forward. It is looking more likely of the number reaching critical mass.
By "critical mass" I mean that it would be electoral suicide for Labour to go into the 2015 General Election with a policy of hostility towards them. Labour will be forced to retreat - rather as they did over the right to buy for council tenants in the 1980s. If we have only a couple of hundred free schools then the Labour Party might feel they could get away with threatening to crush them. If we have thousands of free schools, educating the chidren of millions of parents, then it is another matter.
Consider, for example, the constituency of Stockton South where the Conservative MP, James Wharton, has a majority of 332. We don't what difference boundary changes will make but it is likely to be among the seats Labour would need to gain to return to power. There is news of a free school planned for Ingleby Barwick, in the Stockton South constituency, by a campaign group Barwick’s Own Second Secondary School (BO2SS). It has support from some independent councilors. It has been backed by a 5,000 signature petition.
It's not on the Department of Education's list of 35 yet. But Michael Gove has met them and it looks likely to happen. One of the objections raised against free schools is that it is good for the community to use the local school. Fiona Millar, Melissa Benn, et al, set up the Local Schools Network as their reply to the New Schools Network. However the people of Ingleby Barwick want a free school because it would mean a new local school – at present many children have to travel long journeys.
Will the Labour candidate in Stockton South in 2015 be out on the stump in Ingleby Barwick demanding its free school be closed down?
In Lincolnshire, Therese Lord, Chairman of the Lincolnshire Parent Carer Council, plans a special needs free school. Again it is not yet on the list but she has met Michael Gove. She has two children with autism and proposes a school for 140 children who are academically bright but have special needs. These children are not catered for in existing Special Needs schools. Would "Progressive Labour" demand the closure of such a school if he succeeds in getting it up and running?
In Tottenham, the Wisdom School is applying to become a free school so it can expand to two form entry. It particularly caters for Turkish speaking children who were falling behind at the schools provided by Haringey Council. Children starting at the school are behind for their age but improve at an incredible rate.
Headteacher Ramazan Guveli says:
"As a community we have asked ourselves over and over again about why our children are under-performing in school. Of course, speaking English as a second language is a barrier.
"State schools already face many challenges, so we appreciate there may not be time to address the issues of this one particular group, but we are happy to do the job ourselves."
If they become a free school and thus expand, would Labour allow this continue? Or would "Progressive Labour" force it to return to only having those children whose parents could afford the fees?
I predict a Labour U-Turn on this issue by the end of next year.