Education & Family

No more free schools, Labour pledges

Lucy Powell Image copyright PA
Image caption Ms Powell said the Tories had been "doing down the teaching profession".

There will be no more free schools under a future Labour government, the shadow education secretary has said.

During her first speech in post, Lucy Powell also told her party's conference in Brighton that academy chains would be made accountable.

Critics of free schools complain they are expensive and often not in the areas where school places are needed.

The government argues free schools are providing places where they are needed and that parents should have a choice.

Ms Powell accused the government of wilfully neglecting its "basic duties of providing a school place and teachers to teach".

She said it was "no wonder there's a crisis in school places when local authorities have neither the means or the resources to open or expand good schools. This, we will change," she added.

'Wholly failing'

Local councils should be able to ensure there are sufficient places for children in their area as well as fair admissions, she said.

But the government's "fixation" with turning all schools into academies and its "political positioning" on free schools had meant the Tories had been failing to address the big challenges in education.

Ms Powell said she, and her team, would hold "the government to account on the areas where they are wholly failing".

She said teacher recruitment had been "botched", that teacher retention was "in freefall" and that teacher shortages were "dangerously high".

This was because ministers were "doing down the profession" and "ignoring the views of the workforce", she said.

"They are leaving in their droves and it's our children who are paying the price," she added.

There are 252 free schools open in England, with a further 52 set to open this term, out of a total of about 22,000 schools in the state sector.

The Conservatives have pledged to open 500 extra free schools by the end of this Parliament.

Nick Timothy, director of the New Schools Network which supports opening free schools, said: "Free schools are better placed to give parents what they want and drive up standards because they give more control to head teachers, teachers and governors, rather than politicians and bureaucrats.

"It is time to accept that free schools are here to stay and we hope Labour will support the creation of more of desperately needed schools."

A Conservative Party spokesman said Lucy Powell had "confirmed" the Labour Party "don't have a single idea about how to raise standards in our schools".

He added: "Rather than trusting heads and teachers to run their schools, Labour would return to the failed model of schools micromanaged by bureaucrats and politicians, undoing everything we've done to extend opportunity and give families security."

The statement added: "Our reforms have seen more 11-year-olds leaving school able to read, write and add up properly, a narrowing of the achievement gap between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers and a million more pupils in good and outstanding schools."

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