Support for free schools is collapsing

A new poll shows that just 27% of the public support the schools, down from 36% in mid-September.

Free schools have never been as popular as many in Westminster assume and now support for them is collapsing. After widspread coverage of the scandal-plagued Al-Madinah in Derby, where pupils were allegedly segregated by gender and female teachers forced to wear Islamic dress, a YouGov poll for today's Times shows that just 27% back the schools, down from 36% in mid-September, with 47% opposed. The poll also shows that, on this issue, the public agree with Nick. Sixty six per cent share the Deputy PM's belief that the schools should only be able to employ qualified teachers and 56% believe the national curriculum should be compulsory for all institutions.

Clegg said in his long-trailed speech today: "I am totally unapologetic for believing that, as we continue to build a new type of state funded school system – in which parents are presented with a dizzying range of independent, autonomous schools, each with its own different specialism, ethos or mission – parents can make their choice safe in the knowledge that there are certain safeguards. A safety net, if you like, to prevent their children from falling through the cracks. 

"So, yes, I support free schools and academies, but not with exemptions from minimum standards. That’s the bit I want to see change. And that will be clearly set out in our next General Election manifesto. 

"There is nothing – absolutely nothing – inconsistent in believing that greater school autonomy can be married to certain core standards for all.
 
"And I am totally unapologetic that the Liberal Democrats have our own ideas about how we do that. "

While Michael Gove, a former Times man, is adept at attracting adulation from the media, it seems that the voters remain unconvinced. Sam Coates notes that the "significant shift in public attitude" is "likely to reinforce views expressed in Downing Street that the Education Secretary has not done enough to convince the public of his reform agenda."

If Gove doesn't want his revolution to go the way of Andrew Lansley's and Iain Duncan Smith's, he would be wise to spend less time wooing the leader writers and more time persuading voters. 

Education Secretary Michael Gove at the Conservative conference in Birmingham in 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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I've started getting "hangover shame" – only for my entire adolescence

My new friend was rich, and I had to do something to impress her. So I told her I had a horse.

You know how, after a big night out, you lose consciousness with deep satisfaction, knowing that this is life and you’re living it? But the next morning, some different you awakes, a trembling shame-gremlin, full of remorse and suffering from flashbacks – crystal-clear replays of the stupid, bolshie things you said the night before?

I’ve started getting those, but ones from my adolescence. Memories I had forgotten drop suddenly into my mind in excruciating detail. I’m suffering with these remembrances of things past not only because I used to be foolish and fanciful but because I used to be a liar – a bad one, an unbelievable one. But no one ever told me, so I thought I was getting away with it.

I relive my memories, powerless as my past self tells a girl at my new secondary school that I have a horse. I wanted to impress Laura Crosshunt. She was the richest person I’d ever met: her house had three bedrooms, her kitchen was so big that it had a table in it and her sister wasn’t a bitch.

“I love horses,” Laura says. “Can I come and meet yours?”

I assure her nonchalantly that of course she could. “Why are you so calm?” I scream silently, 20 years in the future. My past self doesn’t know how this ends up but I do.

I was 13 and loved horses. I was addicted to a series of books about them called Pony Club: I’d read them in the school toilets when no one would talk to me. My other favourite books were Point Horror, ’cos I liked danger, and Forever . . . by Judy Blume (the name Ralph still turns me on).

So, Laura tells her parents that the new girl has a horse and that we are going to ride it at the weekend and they say that they will come with us. I didn’t cancel the trip because although I didn’t have a horse, I really wanted to have one.

I had once met a friendly horse in a field that let me stroke his nose. I walked Laura’s family through Hornchurch Country Park but when we got to the field where the friendly horse lived, it was empty.

“MY HORSE HAS BEEN STOLEN!!!”

I flipped out: Laura’s dad had to carry me back to the car while I demonstrated the acting skills that have landed me bit-parts in over two BBC programmes. When we got to their three-bed mansion, I made some fake phone calls: one to my mum, one to the stables and one to the horse police, reporting the theft.

Because of my reading matter, I knew all the lingo. Thanks to the Pony Club books, I knew the correct terms: bridle, stirrups, legs. Because of Point Horror, I knew my horse was probably murdered by a jealous stagehand who wanted to be in the school play. Thanks to Judy Blume, I knew how to caress a penis. I see my former self, over and over, like a horror movie I can’t switch off. 

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred