Liberal Democrats 'Sceptical' of Free Schools

Toby Young 'unable' to confirm criteria for taking on teaching staff

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Liberal Democrat Education spokesperson Councillor Andrew Steed, says that there is still a lot about the proposed West London Free School that is unknown.

At a Council scrutiny meeting, Cllr Steed said that, under questioning, Free School campaigner Toby Young was unable to indicate if the school would be up and running by September 2011, or indeed where the school would be, or from where the pupils will be drawn from.

Cllr Steed said, "This level of uncertainty is a worry because of the unknown impact the proposed school will have on the local state schools. Although the Department of Education has given the green light for the proposal to proceed it seems Mr Young still does not know where the school will be located, it could be Ealing, Hammersmith or Hounslow."

He added, "There was also some surprise that Mr Young could not even confirm the criteria for taking on teaching staff, i.e. if they will be qualified teachers. All the evidence is that professional staff deliver the best results and it is frankly shocking that there is even a suggestion that the teachers will not be qualified."

Toby Young was speaking with local NUT spokesperson Nick Grant and Acton High Headteacher Mandy Golding at a meeting of the Ealing Council Education and Children's Services Standing Scrutiny Panel on Wednesday 8th September.

Toby Young told us: "Councillor Andrew Steed has, I'm afraid, given a highly misleading account of last week's meeting of the Scrutiny Panel. His account suggests it was a humiliating defeat for the West London Free School when, in fact, it was quite the opposite.

"The first part of the meeting consisted of a debate about the pros and cons of Free Schools and the West London Free School in particular. I put the case for, Nick Grant (NUT, SWP, Respect Party) put the case against, while Mandy Golding (Head, Acton High) sounded some notes of caution. After a robust exchange of views, the three of us were then cross-examined by a group of Councillors representing all three political parties as well as members of the public. The debate lasted approximately 90 minutes, at which point another matter was discussed and then the Panel took a vote. They decided by a substantial majority to recommend to Cabinet that Ealing Council not obstruct my group's plans to set up a Free School.

"If Cabinet decides to follow this recommendation, which I trust it will, I hope we can put these disagreements behind us and work together to ensure that the West London Free School becomes a valuable addition to the wide array of educational choices available to the people of Ealing and the neighbouring boroughs. Not only does it seem likely at this stage that the Labour group on Ealing Council will not stand in our way, it seems overwhelmingly probable that the Labour Party as a whole will not oppose Free Schools, given that David Miliband will almost certainly be the Party's next leader.

"No doubt Free Schools will continue to have their detractors, but with so many thoughtful people on the left as well as the right now coming round to them - not just the Labour and Lib Dem Councillors who voted not to obstruct our school last night, but President Obama, Tony Blair, David Miliband, Andrew Adonis, the leadership of Councillor Steed's own party, and many, many more - perhaps the opponents of our school could take a second look at our proposals. We really do want to create a truly outstanding school that benefits children from all parts of the local community and we hope to work closely with the borough's existing schools, including Acton High, to achieve that aim.

September 13, 2010