The Liberal Democrats today gave their overwhelming backing to a campaign against the expansion of Sarah Teather’s Education policy on school academies and have called for a boycott of free schools in the strongest public show of concern by rank and file activists over the party’s role in Coalition Government. They called on all Lib Dems to actively “urge people not to take up the option” of creating the “free” schools championed by Tory Education Secretary Michael Gove and Brent Central MP and Education Minister Sarah Teather.
Teather branded it an “illiberal boycott” and according to the BBC, Teather pleaded to delegates “Don’t vote for a boycott, don’t tie councils’ hands.” However, Former Lib Dem MP Dr Evan Harris argued that it was not illiberal for Lib Dems to be allowed to campaign on issues they felt strongly about.”We must be free to fight the Tories at a local level up and down the country,” he said.
While Sarah Teather pleaded with members of her party to vote against the motion, her Department’s policy was ConDemned for treating pupils like tins of beans.
According to the Guardian, Lib Dem Councillor Peter Downes, who moved the motion said, “Just as the supermarket drives the corner shop out of business, so it will be with schools. When Sainsbury’s provides some new products to lure people away from their competitors, the unsold items in the failing shops can be returned to the wholesaler or sold off in a sale. But not so in schools. Pupils are human beings, not tins of beans.”
What the motion said:
F23. Free Schools and Academies
In relation to ‘free schools’, conference calls on all Liberal Democrats to urge people not to take up this option because it risks:
1. Creating surplus places which is prejudicial to the efficient use of resources in an age of austerity.
2. Increasing social divisiveness and inequity into a system which is already unfair because of the multiple tiers and types of schools created by successive Conservative and Labour governments and thus abandoning our key goal of a high quality education system for all learners.
3. Depressing educational outcomes for pupils in general.
4. Increasing the existing complexity of school admissions and exclusions.
5. Putting at risk advances made in making appropriate provision for children with special needs.
6. Putting in jeopardy the programme of improving school buildings.
7. Wasting precious resources, both human and material, at a time when all efforts should be focused on improving educational outcomes by enabling effective teaching and learning to take place in good local schools accessible to all.
Point 6 is particularly interesting as it indicates that Lib Dem members want to ditch the ‘Free Schools’ policy and revert back to a scheme similar to Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme.
However, Sarah Teather responded “I will take into account what they say but it is not going to change government policy, because Government policy is formed by Government ministers,” Potentially rendering the whole episode entirely useless in terms of delivering change.
Meanwhile, out on the doorstep, resentment was strife among residents who had voted for Sarah Teather in May 2010. A former Labour supporter who voted for Teather said “I’m quite distraught because what I voted for was totally the opposite to what I got. I didn’t vote for a Tory Government basically and I will definitely be voting Labour next time.”
I imagine many who voted for a Lib Dem MP across the country will be doing the same.