Whisper it softly. Labour Councils are increasingly coming to terms with new free schools opening. Of course the Labour policy nationally is still hostile. The Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, wants all free schools abolished. Under a Corbyn Government they would be municipalised. She uses the code that they “must be fully accountable to the local communities they serve” but, of course, a far left Labour Government would be out to crush them. Even Tristram Hunt wasn’t exactly a fan.
On the other hand, some Labour councils might quietly have doubts about Labour’s prospects at the next General Election. As a matter of principle they might still object to parents being given wider choice. They want to run the schools and decide who attends them. So they will argue that a free school is “unnecessary” if there are “surplus places” at an existing school. They propose to “allocate” more pupils to the existing school – no matter how awful it might be (provided, of course, it is not their own children being sent to it).
Yet often there is the growing prospect of a shortage of school places. Here pragmatism means that rather than being obstructive, councils are keen to assist the process of new free schools opening – which usually means finding a site.
Thus the Manchester Evening News reports “Plans for a new 1,800 place school for Manchester as demand for school places skyrockets – Council chiefs are determined to tackle the city’s school places crisis.” We read that “suitable sites still being scouted” but the report adds:
“It is expected each year group across all primary schools will grow by around 200 pupils over the next two years.
“The number of high school students is expected to rise even more dramatically.
“The city’s business boom has seen demand for housing – and school places – rocket.
“Manchester had more than 71,000 school children as of January 2015 – an increase of nearly 3,000 in just one year.
“Last year, there were more than 12,250 in-year applications. Nearly 4,000 of those were from new arrivals to the city.”
This is in addition to what is already on the way:
“In recent rounds of free school applications, sponsors have had successful four bids.
Didsbury High School, sponsored by Cheadle Hulme High School, will have 180 places per year group.
Eden Boys Leadership Academy and Eden Girls Leadership Academy, both faith schools, are planned in Cheetham Hill.
And Pioneer House Special School for pupils with special educational needs, is planned in Northenden.”
A couple of years ago I wrote on this site that opening a free school was “a political act”. That is still true – but perhaps in some places a bit less true than it was.