Yummy Mummies of the world will rejoice. Their school of choice has been saved from the bodger's cull. Tristram Hunt, who previously called Free Schools 'vanity projects' for the aforementioned delicious mothers, has told the Mail that under any Labour government they would be safe.
‘I regret those comments because I think any parents, be they yummy mummies. . . or faddy daddies, involved in the education of their children is great.’
Now this is interesting, and edifying. Politics is often as prickly as a wounded ego, and many participants would rather choke on their own balls than admit they'd erred. If one of the first acts of the incumbent Shadow ed-sec is to clear the air and move on, then that's something to be praised, not pilloried. And to be fair to Hunt, the air is pretty thick after Stephen Twigg left the bathroom of education; frankly you'd need Agent Orange to burn up the miasma of invertebrate indecision from his reign. I'd give it five minutes.
Free Schools will survive, like the Doctor, by preserving their spirit while changing....well, perhaps not much. Parent Led Academies, as they'd be called (confirming that the academy concept has now been accepted by the OED of educational vocabulary as common usage) will only be allowed in areas of want rather than dropped in, unwanted, by Tory rottters. To be fair, there's been so much resistance to the creation of Free Schools by Labour councils I'm surprised any got passed at all. There would be limits on untrained teachers, and town halls could step in if they had to. PLAs would really be Free Schools with a different shade of lipstick and no tide marks.
‘What I am saying is if you want to do that when we are in government we will be on your side. There has been this perception that we would not be, and I want people to be absolutely clear that we are. I am putting rocket boosters on getting behind parents and social entrepreneurs.
‘We are not going to go back to the old days of the local authority running all the schools – they will not be in charge.’
That is a significant re-emphasis. Labour's front bench has woken up to the fact that for the most part, parents who aren't involved in education politics don't care who runs schools, as long as their child gets a good education. Whether it's the Town Hall or Tracy Island,what matters is provision, not provenance. And there's been a good deal to suggest that LEAs are just as prone to errors and leaden ideology as any private sponsor or chain.
And to confirm his commitment to PLAs, Hunt adds that, like John Gummer force-feeding his daughter beefburgers at the height of the BSE scare, he'd send his kids to a Free Schoo- sorry, Parent Lead Academy. That's pretty close endorsement.
Hunt's in an interesting and difficult position. On one hand, Twigg was as useful to Labour's education policy as a hair dryer in the Sahara. On the other, he can't burn the cathedrals and salt the ground of his predecessor without raising the question of why Labour so badly needed a reformation in the first place. On a third hand, Gove has stolen light years of a march on Labour in education; the landscape is now very different, and the effects of the recent years' reforms will echo for some time. Hunt would do well to consider which of these are prudent and beneficial, without recourse to default ideological positions and party point-scoring, and which require improvement (or satisfactory, as we used to say before Chairman Gove's glorious Aberdonian Spring).
Autumn is a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness. It's also a time for careful reflection, keeping powder dry, and planning the next steps carefully. Education just got interesting again. The danger is that the dynamic across the sword lines of the commons could revert back to the tired one-sided battles of the past parliament. Hunt has an opportunity to do something better.