A lot of excitement has greeted Stephen Twigg’s statement to his local newspaper that Labour won’t shut successful free schools provided they meet three tests:
- is the school raising standards for pupils and parents?
- does it contribute to narrowing of the achievement gap between rich and poor?
- what is the wider impact of that school?
Despite this being heralded as a new departure for Labour, and indeed as a
“surrender” by one of the more excitable members of the Labour left, it is at most a change of emphasis: in all the years of debate over the Labour Party’s education policy, no one and certainly not any of our Education Secretaries or Shadow Education Secretaries has seriously suggested that a Labour government should shut popular and successful schools. If a school achieves the sort of things Labour thinks a school should achieve, then clearly we should keep it open, regardless of how it was set up. It would be dogmatic and ridiculous to do otherwise.
Twigg has since also made clear the Free Schools are not a Labour policy and that they are not an extension of Labour’s academies programme. If Labour were in office, we wouldn’t have implemented this reform in this way.
And that, ultimately, is the real problem and something those who have criticised Twigg for his statement need to come to terms with: Labour isn’t in power. There was an election, we lost: we don’t get to implement our education policy, we have to work out how we are going to live with the legacy of the other side’s.
In squaring up to that challenge and making clear how Labour will deal with the actual educational landscape we inherit rather than the fictional one we can all build in our heads, Stephen Twigg has done excellent work in preparing Labour to think sensibly about how we regain our title as the real radical reformers in British education.