Labour Group oppose ‘free’ schools initiative

Sir, There have been some articles and speculation in the press recently concerning potential new initiatives around state education.

These follow policy statements made by the coalition government's Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, seeking expressions of interest in the establishment of “free” schools. 

Rotherham Labour Group would like to make our position on state education quite clear. Firstly, it is our view that far from being fair the “free” schools initiative is fundamentally unfair and will begin a process of dismantling state education. 

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There are currently two “free” school applications in Rotherham but, as we outline below, the case for approving them cannot be based on educational grounds and would at worst be based on ideological grounds. 

Is there a need for two new secondary schools in the borough? No, there is not. The number of children in secondary schools has been falling for some years and will continue to do so into the immediate future.

There are surplus places which the Building Schools of the Future programme would have addressed, but this has now been scrapped by the coalition government and Rotherham children have been denied improved facilities to enhance their learning.

Will there be an improvement in standards? This would be very difficult to assess but the quality of education in Rotherham secondary schools has been improving annually. 

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In our opinion, it is doubtful whether the range and quality of provision could be matched by “free” schools.

Can we be assured of the motives and expertise of the providers of these schools? Recent press reports have brought into question the organisation and personnel behind the application in the Dearne. 

We need to trust the current providers of our children's education as being both professional and committed and who hold the quality of that education as a priority.

Lastly, are the people of Rotherham supportive of these applications? To our knowledge the public meetings held in the Dearne only attracted a handful of people and many of these were against the proposal. We believe the application for a central school only has the support of around 50 parents.

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The “free” school initiative has no place in Rotherham where 98 per cent of parents are allocated their first choice of secondary school for their children. 

The results gained by Rotherham children are improving year on year. “Free” schools in Rotherham will be detrimental to all Rotherham schools by diverting precious financial resources. 

The amount of money for education in Rotherham will not be increased to fund these schools. An increase in the number of schools will mean the reduction in funding for all. 

Rotherham Labour Group cannot support a system where the most disadvantaged will suffer and there is no substantiated need. 

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We do not expect anything else from Conservatives but this is nowhere near the fairness the coalition government keeps talking about.

We will actively oppose the establishment of “free” schools in Rotherham based on sound educational arguments. 

Rotherham Labour Group will continue to support a system of education based on need, equality of access and opportunity. 

This we feel is fair for all our children and this is what Rotherham people want.

Jane Austen and Jo Burton, Press Officers, Rotherham Labour Group.