In his speech on education, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg says:
Michael Gove will be making decisions on the second wave over the coming weeks. I want to see all of them in poorer neighbourhoods. Or in areas crying out for more school places.
He also says he won't "tolerate" free schools "causing problems for and draining resources from other nearby schools."
These remarks are deeply misguided. If the next General Election takes place in four years time there could well be a substantial number of free schools up and running. It could well be regarded as one of the Government's greatest success stories. Nick Clegg's speech positions the Lib Dems as acting as a brake, trying to create obstacles, looking at ways to sabotage the process. Parents with children at Free Schools will conclude that the schools were set up thanks to the Conservatives rather than the Lib Dems. Had Clegg been less grudging both the coalition partners would be in a position to take the credit.
While his speech talked about choice he gave the game away by his other remarks. His constituency is rather more affluent than other parts of Sheffield. But he will have plenty of parents who can't afford school fees and will want better schools for their children. On his criteria he would apparently thwart the opening of a free school unless a site can be found in a "poorer neighbourhood."
What is Lib Dem MP for Cheltenham, or Wells, or Twickenham to say to their constituents wishing to start free schools? "Sorry, you are banned. Our neighbourhoods aren't poor enough. I realise you can't afford school fees but you will just have to send your child to the local Council-run school even if it is pretty dire."
Clegg's reference to not "causing problems" for other schools also shows his lack of belief in choice. Good schools opening will cause problems for bad schools. Parents who would have been forced to send their children to bad schools will exercise their choice to send them to good schools instead. If as a result a bad school if half empty it will end up having to close. Why does Clegg want bad schools to stay open?