Struggling free schools have been earmarked for special fast-track attention by the government because of the potential for serious political embarrassment for education secretary, Michael Gove, if they should fail, according to leaked documents seen by the Observer.
Marked “Official – Sensitive”, the confidential papers warn that the “political ramifications of any more free schools being judged inadequate are very high and speedy intervention is essential”.
Gove’s flagship policy of allowing groups to set up schools outside the supervision of local education authorities has been the subject of a barrage of bad publicity in recent months. Four free schools have been declared inadequate by Sir Michael Wilshaw’s Ofsted, with one of those, the Discovery New School in Crawley, West Sussex, closing down last week.
The leaked document shows that the Department for Education wants to tackle the problems at inadequate free schools before their failings are made public by Ofsted, at which point they can be used as political ammunition. It suggests that party political considerations are now driving education policy a year ahead of the general election, provoking one union leader to claim that the public would be “appalled”.