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Lucy Reese on Newsnight: “big companies gagging to get their hands on education budgets”

Regular Left Futures contributor Lucy Reese defended local authority-run education on Newsnight last night – and warned that Michael Gove’s free schools policy was paving the way for large corporations to “get their hands on education budgets”.

She appeared on the programme after a film was aired assessing the progress of free schools at the end of the autumn term. The panel also included a member of a group attempting to establish a free school in Oxford, a free school head and an academy head. Newsnight reported that all government ministers were “unavailable” to appear on the show.

She was appearing in her capacity as a school governor at her children’s primary school.

“My children go to schools in Camden, “ she opened. “A recent Ofsted report said that children who go to schools in Camden have the best chance in the whole of Britain. Our schools are controlled by the local authority and do a brilliant job.”

Others appearing on the programme had defended their support for free schools on the basis that they were simply providing for local need in areas with a shortage of school places.

This was picked up by presenter Kirsty Wark, who grilled Lucy: “What happens where you’re in areas where the provision is neither sufficient to the need or challenging enough?”

She replied: “The government has decided that the only schools it is going to build are free schools and academies. That is a policy – there is no reason why money couldn’t be given to local authorities. The government has decided against that. That is a political and ideological decision.”

In response, the free school headteacher said: “Everyone wants their children to go to really good local schools, and no-one’s arguing against that. The key thing for me is, who are the people best placed to decide what is the right kind of school for their child.”

To which Lucy retorted: “Experts!”

She continued: “I have just had such good experiences of the people who run my local school. My children go to fantastic schools. Particularly for the older child – the school is fantastic. One of the things I particularly like about the way it operates is that it offers a joined-up service. If your child needs extra support, they get it. It’s joined up with other agencies. Maybe a free school could do that, but there’s a co-ordinated approach to education that I like.”

Challenging the notion that private sector involvement can turn around failing local authority schools, Lucy added:  I just don’t think you need the free schools. You can support local authorities. If a local authority isn’t doing well, why can’t you support it? Why can’t the money be shared out? Our head at Torriano Junior School is going to another school to help them improve. Why can’t you have teachers working together across the local authority?”

Kirsty Wark then described free schools as a “middle class endeavour”.

Lucy then warned that there are in fact worse worries than those schools being set up by middle class parents. “Most parents haven’t got the time or the energy to set up a school. But there are lots of big companies out there absolutely gagging to get their hands on education budgets. That’s my fear.”

Catch the debate on iPlayer for the next six days – free schools film from 13:00; panel discussion from 22:50


  1. Robert says:

    What does Miliband say on private schools, if I remember he said we cannot be against everything the Tories do.

    England does have problems with education which will end up in large corporations then again they would have under New labour

  2. Mark Sutton says:

    Lucy is very very lucky to live in an area in which the local education authority has ensured that the local education infrastructure keeps pace with demand. Some of us are not so lucky and cannot afford to wait for their authority to deliver much needed schools. As a free school proposer I am delivering a local school in time for my children. If left to the local council, a whole secondary school generation will lose out due to the lead time required by local authorities to follow the appropriate public processes to set up a new school. It is naive to believe that local authorities are always best situated to resolve problems often of their own making. A bit like expecting pupils to mark their own exams.

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