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.