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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tories revert to type

The Welsh Conservatives have unveiled their big idea in the field of education this morning, free schools. Well yes, I know that school education has been free for a very long time but this is not what they are getting at.

The plan is to set up schools directly funded by the Welsh Assembly Government so as to give them the freedom to make their own decisions. However, all schools will have to abide by the national curricula on the core subjects of English, Welsh, science, ICT and maths; there will be no privatisation; pupils at free schools will pay no fees and bids would not be subject to the raising of millions of pounds in sponsorship as is currently the case in England; they will still be inspected by Estyn; and there is to be no selective exclusion either, so Welsh free schools would have to abide by strict criteria in order to exclude a pupil, and ensure that the child was placed in a referral unit should they do so.

So how are these 'free' schools any more free than the current Local Authority schools? That remains a mystery. In truth the only difference appears to be that these schools will come under the direct control of the Welsh Government, who will be responsible for their funding. In other words we are back to the pre-1997 agenda of dismantling local education authorities and the democratic control and accountability that went with that. The Welsh Tories have not changed one bit from their predecessors.

They are not any more consistent either. On the one hand they are rightly criticising the Labour-Plaid Cymru Welsh Government for centralising control of the NHS in the hands of the Health Minister. On the other they are proposing the same treatment for schools. It is little wonder that they are a shambles as an official opposition.
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