Tories to give primaries posh touch

27th November 2009 at 00:00
Prep schools advise on post-election plans for 'free schools' and primary academies

The country's leading body representing prep schools is being lined up to advise the Tories on plans for state-funded independent "free schools" and primary academies.

The Independent Association of Prep Schools (IAPS) has met with Michael Gove, shadow education secretary, to discuss how its expertise could help if the Conservatives win the next election. Chief executive David Hanson also met with Rachel Wolf, the former education adviser to Mr Gove, who is now director of the New Schools Network, the body set up to develop Swedish-style free schools.

Mr Hanson said: "We already have a thriving independent sector that is recognised as the finest in the world. There has to be a synergy between the new independent schools and that existing sector."

He said the IAPS could potentially offer expertise on how to create a school from scratch.

"But we are still scoping out whether these schools will be truly independent," said Mr Hanson. "Will that freedom be reined in as academies have been under Labour? You must be prepared to let them go, but it is difficult for a politician to give a school funding and allow it to do what it believes to be right."

He said existing independent schools could offer guidance on how to set up a truly independent curriculum, free from testing, but still accountable to parents.

"To widen the curriculum you need to step away from the narrow focus on literacy and numeracy, but you have to be able to dare to do that."

Mr Hanson stressed the meetings were only preliminary. He added that some prep school heads would be keen to team up with free schools to form federations, in an effort to "raise standards".

So far, prep schools have failed to become involved in the academies project, as several senior independent schools have done.

IAPS said it has held off because it could not gain confirmation that doing so would count in a school's favour when subject to the Charity Commission's public benefit test.

A recent report from MTM Consulting said changes to the planning laws that would allow free schools to open would make it easier for chains of private schools to establish themselves.

Mr Gove said: "We are working with a number of organisations on our plans for state-funded independent schools with a comprehensive intake to raise standards for the most disadvantaged children.

"We want to do as much work in the pre-election period so that, as far as possible, if we do win the election next year we are able to implement any necessary legislation straight away."

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