Skip to main content

Free Schools

Volume 518: debated on Monday 15 November 2010

Innovation, diversity and flexibility are at the heart of the free schools policy. We want the dynamism that characterises the best independent schools to help drive up standards in the state sector. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] Oh, thank you. In that spirit, we will not be setting requirements in relation to qualifications. Instead, we will expect business cases to demonstrate how governing bodies intend to guarantee the highest quality of teaching and leadership in their schools. No school will be allowed to proceed unless its proposals for quality teaching are soundly based. Ensuring that each free school’s unique educational vision is translated into the classroom will require brilliant people with a diverse range of experience.

I am grateful for that answer. [Interruption.] I am, indeed. My only question is, if we recruit too many untrained and unqualified teachers, does the Secretary of State fear he will end up presiding over the Department for dumbing down?

That was a brilliantly couched question, which reflects the many years that the hon. Gentleman spent, with profit, in the Government Whips Office. I think that the Department for dumbing down was presided over by my predecessor, the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), during his three years as Secretary of State. As our new schools White Paper will point out when it is published, we will do everything possible to increase the prestige and esteem of the teaching profession. Throughout the House, we all recognise how important it is to get the best people into the classroom.

Will the teachers—or whatever description they are given—at free schools be required to go through checking by the Criminal Records Bureau?

We will ensure that everyone who is employed in a free school goes through the appropriate process of ensuring that it is safe for them to be in an environment where children are taught. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the Government are reviewing the current vetting and barring scheme in order to scale it back to common-sense levels, but the balance that we want to strike is between a proper regard for child safety and ensuring that unnecessary bureaucracy is removed.

Where will these unqualified teachers be required to teach? I have here the document containing the Government’s list of places where they want free schools to be able to open without any planning permission. It includes hairdressers, travel agencies, sandwich bars, dry cleaners, undertakers and—you could not make this up, Mr Speaker—pet shops. Actually, the Secretary of State and the schools Minister, the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr Gibb), look a bit like the Pet Shop Boys, but does their vision of 21st century schools really consist of our children being educated in the abandoned premises of “Reptiles R Us”?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that well rehearsed question. I know that he is a brilliant musician, but in the words of the Pet Shop Boys, he’s got the brains and I’ve got the looks, and together—I suspect—we could make lots of money.

We want to ensure that the spirit of innovation can flourish, and that Britain, and indeed our education system, is open for business in raising standards.