Richard Fuller , MP for Bedford, twice mentioned the Local Schools Network (LSN) in the Commons
on 11 May. According to Mr Fuller the LSN has been flooding public meetings to frustrate plans for free schools or academies. Mr Fuller was discussing Kempston free school, which was presented as a plucky initiative by embattled visionaries whose project was being thwarted by a reactionary local authority supported by the education “establishment”, unions, the Anti-Academies Alliance (AAA) and “its fellow travellers in the LSN”. According to Mr Fuller, these agitators “crush anyone who threatens the orthodoxy.” He implied that if local people decided they didn’t want a free school, then they had obviously been manipulated and the consultation, therefore, wouldn’t reflect their interests. He wanted the Secretary of State to intervene and to say to free school proposers that he would “disapply” obstacles that stand in the way of the proposed enterprise. Quite how this disapplication would be achieved was unclear – it sounds rather painful.
In reply, Nick Gibb, the school's minister, said there were already “significant powers” in place as the Department of Education offered “pressure, help and assistance” to help proposers of free schools and academies make an articulate case, a point Mr Fuller had forgotten when he presented the proposers of free schools as being beleaguered. However, Mr Gibb said, this assistance did not mean that there should be no consultation process as this enabled “all local people to put their views forward”.
Mr Fuller repeated his concerns about public meetings, perhaps because these might give local people the opportunity to vote down proposals. Public meetings, he repeated, are swamped by activists including the LSN. In such circumstances, Mr Gibb replied, the Secretary of State will ensure the consultation had been genuine.
Perhaps Mr Fuller is unaware that the LSN is a forum for discussing topical educational matters. It is open to anyone wishing to put forward their views. There is no membership so it is difficult to understand who these LSN agitators are – unless Mr Fuller applies this term to anyone who argues against the Government’s policies.
If Mr Fuller is concerned about the validity of consultations, perhaps he should ask the Secretary of State to ensure that all consultations about proposed free schools and academy conversions is genuine and extensive.