“…these [free] schools have had no external support from local authorities or political sugar daddies.”
Michael Gove, 31 July 2013
Political sugar daddies? What are these? Is Gove looking back down the Centuries at those philanthropists - Kings, Bishops, wealthy merchants and the like – who founded schools for boys from humble backgrounds? Or is he referring to the more modern sponsors who were behind the early academies? Some of these donated money to the Tory party including Lord Harris whose Harris chain is hoovering up "failing" schools in London and John Nash, whose charity sponsors Pimlico Academy and the proposed Pimlico primary free school, and who was fast-tracked to the peerage to become education minister in the Lords.
Or perhaps he’s referring to those early academy sponsors – all of them promised money but a “significant proportion” failed to honour their pledges (National Audit Office 2010)? In these cases, the “sugar daddies” didn’t quite bring the sweetness promised. Is that what Gove means?
Maybe there’s only one political sugar daddy – the Government itself. £1.7b has been pledged to the free school programme, the taxpayer funded New Schools Network supports free school proposals and the Government backs free schools with constant positive publicity and spin.
But what about local authorities (LAs)? It’s true that some opposed the establishment of free schools in their areas. These include Suffolk where the Tory Council leader and Tory MP campaigned against Beccles Free School and Warrington Borough Council who felt pressurized by the Department for Education
(DfE) to “release” land used by local sports clubs for the King’s Leadership Academy. But it’s untrue that LAs don’t support established free schools:
1 Batley Grammar School
was judged by Ofsted as “requires improvement”. Ofsted has since revisited and found the school is being supported by Kirklees LA even though it has no obligation to do so. (Ofsted April 2013)
2 The governing body of the Kings Science Academy
, another free school judged as “requires improvement, has arranged to draw on Bradford LA’s expertise in training governors. (Ofsted April 2013)
3 Below-average attendance at Aldborough E-Act Primary Free School
improved significantly as a result of the work of Redbridge LA’s education welfare service. Aldborough E-Act’s governing body also includes a representative from the LA. (Ofsted February 2013)
4 Krishna-Avanti Primary School
, Leicester: “Relationships between the school and the local authority are good. The school has opted to buy in a range of support services from the local authority.” (Ofsted May 2013)
5 The Maharishi Free School
makes “good use of external advice from national advisers, Lancashire local authority and independent consultants to evaluate the school’s performance and develop effective plans for improvement" (Ofsted July 2013)
6 Etz Chaim Jewish Primary School
, Barnet: “The local authority and Department of Education have supported the school very well. “ (Ofsted January 2013)
7 The Rainbow Primary School, Bradford
: “The school’s leaders and trustees have built up a good relationship with the local authority so that the school is able to benefit from its support.” (Ofsted February 2013)
It seems that the free schools above appreciate the support, expertise, advice and services that LAs can provide. But according to Gove, schools must unshackle themselves from LAs in order to be free of heavy-handed “control”. Free schools in particular have had no help from LAs, he says.
But Ofsted discovered otherwise. It appears that LAs have an important role after all.
Disclaimer: citing Ofsted verdicts doesn’t imply agreement.