Here in Liverpool at the Lib Dem conference activists are showing their concern about the direction of coalition policy in respect of academies and free schools.
Our head of education, Simon Lucas, attended a major debate on Monday morning. This followed on from the fringe meeting at which Sarah Teather, the Minister of State for Children and Families, was subjected to several questions about the new policies and their impact on the party mission and values.
At the debate a motion, with a single amendment, was placed to, effectively, raise their concern about the current construct for free schools and the ’new’ scademies. Core to argument is that the developments around a ’localising and liberalising’ of school provision with more diverse providers was divisive in the way it was framed and that Local Authorities should remain in control of the strategy for planning and delivering school places and the control of admissions, as well as many other aspects of the current position for statutory services and support being sustained.
The party voted to accept the motion, which pushes back on one of the core tenets of government education policy.
One of the key debates was the acknowledgement of the restart of any new investment programme into the schools estate and how this might be deployed under the ’more for less’ agenda if there are greater competing ’policy’ drivers coming into play.
There is no doubt that the issues in the education debate drive Lib Dem passions high – especially when it comes to funding on all aspects of the programme including recurring revenue. It is also clear that the ’freedoms’ implied in the Coalition reform programme are seen as contradictory of a universal right to good quality schools in good buildings, held by the Lib Dems, including what they see as a ’waste of human and material resources’ in a time of austerity.
Key to this debate however, must be the need for us to ensure that whatever the policy and however implemented we make all possible efforts to ensure that it works and works well, investment is appropriately targeted and every pupil benefits – the young people involved in schools subject to these new policies only get one shot at their education.
We, on the other hand can always learn from our mistakes and try again. There is a need for all the support functions into delivering the ’new agenda’ to be expert, innovative and very clear about the impact and outcomes that need to be achieved, and not just the outputs resulting from a completed contract.
Graham Kean, head of public, EC Harris