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Sunday, 15 July 2012

"The Michael Gove Free School', North Kingston

An open letter to Nick Clegg

Dear Nick

I have seen it reported that in your speech to the Social Liberal Forum yesterday, you stated that you had stopped Michael Gove opening Free schools 'everywhere'. I am sure you meant this sincerely and that it is your belief. But I have to tell you, that it is not what is happening on the ground.

At a public meeting last Thursday in North Kingston, organised by Zac Goldsmith but also attended by Lib Dem and Tory Councillors and the new Head of Children's Services for Kingston, parents were told that the only realistic funding available for the  desperately needed new secondary school required for the area would be if it was a Free School. The money previously promised in the Building Schools for the Future programme had of course been removed, and any other central funds (the Basic Needs programme) were being targeted at primary schools and for repair and refurbishment projects, not new build.

Parents at the meeting repeatedly asked what other alternatives there were to going down the Free School route, and equally repeatedly were told there were realistically none.

The meeting concluded with one Lib Dem councillor, through gritted teeth, telling the meeting that she would do whatever she needed to get this school built - and that if she ended up having to call it 'The Michael Gove Free School' then so be it.

I tell you this, not because I don't think there are going to be many fine Free Schools built - I am sure there are. But the notion being put out by the Conservatives that this is about parental choice is a fallacy. It was made very clear in our public meeting that the choice was 'take it or leave it'.

No one could have left that meeting under any impression other than soon, there will indeed by Free Schools 'everywhere' - because that's all that's on offer.

With best wishes

Richard Morris


  1. Kingston council could, if it chose to do so, pay for the construction of the school itself out of its reserves or from borrowing. Richmond council has paid for the Clifden Road site for an undisclosed sum through to be near £20 mn. for a secondary school this way. See http://twickenhamlibdems.co.uk/en/page/aschool-places for the row abaout this.

    Kingston's reluctance to do this stems, I think, from the adverse electoral consequences: it would either have to cut services to keep its council tax frozen and get a govt bonus or put it up, lose the bonus, and then have to put it up again.

    And be mercilessly attacked by the tory opposition for being 'wasteful', etc.

    I am surprised the council was not challenged on this at the meeting.

  2. To be fair, both the cutting services / increasing council tax options were raised at the meeting by councillors, albeit in the context of 'unacceptable options, and no one in the meeting contradicted this.

    The Clifden Road school was not raised however, which on reflection, you're right, does seem strange