Ideology seems to have given way to politics. The Labour councillors don't believe in extending choice in principle. But they have been lobbied hard by parents, otherwise known as voters, who like the idea. Many girls living in Sandwell are currently educated outside the borough.
Cllr Ann Shackleton, a Labour councillor who was a headmistress in Smethwick for 17 years, says:
“Personally I am against the idea of free schools as not enough is known about them and I don’t agree with all girls schools either as we should not have segregation in our society. However, I do understand that there is a problem with girls in Sandwell leaving the borough to be educated and something needs to be done to stop this happening and hopefully this new school will solve the problem. I do hope this all girls free school will be the only one in the borough.”
Cllr Shackelton may feel we don't know enough about free schools. Others may feel we know rather too much about the local authority run schools in Sandwell. Only 43% of children achieved five or more A*-C grade in GCSEs including English and maths.
The Conservative opposition leader Cllr Ray Nock has offered to help and advise any groups wishing to set up free schools in the borough or any existing schools there wishing to convert to academies. He says it is not a matter of a free school requiring the approval of the Labour Group. It certainly shouldn't be. But does the Sandwell School for Girls have a site? Often when looking around at large unused or underused buildings it turns out they are owned by the local council. If it is privately owned there is the risk that the Labour councillors on the planning committee will discover a deep concern about the traffic management challenges of agreeing a change of use.