Free Schools – A great idea but they do need qualified teachers!

Free schools are a very Liberal idea; no one should have a monopoly in providing education, including the state and local authorities, but it should always be of a high standard.

We Lib Dems welcomed the opening of Hawthorne’s Free (High) School in Bootle because it offers a real opportunity to turn around the increasing numbers of families who are sending their youngsters out of Bootle each day to high schools in Maghull and Crosby. We wish the School well, whilst realising they have taken on a monumental task which by and large Labour has ignored and certainly hope will go away as soon as possible.

But what about the fuss over the free school in Derby which has hit the buffers due to Ofsted saying it is failing in every way? Of course that is unacceptable, of course it has to shape up or be closed down. Yet Tories oppose seemingly any form of regulation of Free Schools, I assume this is on the basis that market forces will decide whether it sinks or swims. This is falsehood though because whilst a school fails its children are being let down and they don’t have another childhood to make up for one that an education system has failed.

It is because of such concerns that Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg has called for changes and some necessary regulation. For my part I can’t see how a school can work effectively without qualified teachers and whilst I am not sold on the rigid (tractor factory) National Curriculum there does have to be a clear standard for education wherever it is delivered.

Personally, I would not have the Government fund Free Schools that are set up for religious purposes. But then again I don’t think it is the job of the state to teach religion at all. Surely, taking on board a religion should be a decision of the individual not something predetermined by a decision of your family?

But back to Free Schools, they are a good thing and can be a force for change and excellence in education but they can’t just take money from the Government and pretty much do with as they wish! The Derby experience should not be a call to close all Free Schools as some in the Labour Party seem to think it. Then again where do Labour stand on Free Schools? Utterly opposed? Well they used to be. Supporting them? Well that was their surprising recent announcement pre-Derby. Moving back to opposing them? Well their utterances post-Derby would lead you to think they are doing another U turn!

The objective is quality education and Free Schools can deliver that but regulation of them must be brought in so to stop a minority of them damaging the education of our young people. I wonder what Labour’s policy on them will be next week?

Clegg, Cameron, Miliband – Is there a workable combination?

Well the answer is both yes and no.

Clegg and Cameron were right to bring the Coalition Government together, of that I have no doubt despite my lifelong opposition to Conservatism. They were right because:-

* the UK was teetering on the brink of economic collapse
* a world recession was hitting hard
* we had been spending and borrowing beyond our means for far too long
* Labour had not only run out of steam they were responsible in no small measure for the state we were and presently still are in.

But don’t times change! Cameron, a slightly pinko Tory, held all before him those 3 heady years ago and his Euro nutters were firmly back in the in their boxes well bound and gagged. Now they are very much out of their boxes running around like headless chickens causing Cameron all kinds of difficulties and UKIP all kinds of joy. That means the strains are clearly showing in the Coalition as Clegg, a chap on the right of the Lib Dems, can’t allow an ever more rightwing Tory Party to do the daft things they seemingly want to do. Like lemmings running for the cliff the Tories have been utterly panicked by UKIP and now half of Cameron’s troops are marching to UKIP’s tune. It can only get worse and we are two years away from an election!

So Clegg is desperately trying to keep the Coalition on track whilst Cameron has to deal with and pander to his ever more desperate Party. That their relationship must be strained there can be little doubt.

But what’s all this talk about Clegg and Miliband becoming good buddies (you can’t repeat that though); does it hold any water?

Well it might or might not. If you look at from the historical perspective you must say that the Lib Dems and Labour have more in common than the Lib Dems and Tories. However, as always happens under Labour, the economy goes to pot and it did so in a spectacular way during the Blair and Brown years. How can you work with a political party that helped bring financial disaster upon us, has failed to seriously acknowledge its failings or address the consequences and which has form from just about every previous Labour administration for failing on the economy?

As my daughter Jen often says – Every Labour government ends in financial failure, every Tory one ends in social failure. There are no right and wrong answers over say a 5 year governmental term because of events. Whom you could work with one year you could not work with the next. How on earth Clegg balances it all out and keeps his sanity I have no idea but when we have recovered from the economic mess, in say 10 years or so, I suspect that we may have him to thank for working with impossible people to do the possible.