AN UNLIKELY alliance of Burnley-born Lancashire County Council Tory leader Geoff Driver and Blackburn with Darwen National Union of Teachers’ secretary Simon Jones opposes the creation of new schools independent of local authority control.

Meanwhile the Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School and the Islamic Tauheedul Education Trust think free schools are the future.

Opponents warn of fragmentation, poor control over standards, and the risk of independent faith schools segregating communities.


In Lancashire last week promoting apprenticeships, Mr Cameron defended his promise to create 500 more free schools if he forms a government after May 7.

Blackburn with Darwen tops the national league for free schools and academies and the Aldridge Foundation’s control of four schools in Darwen has provoked strong criticism.

The Prime Minister rejected concerns when he spoke exclusively to the Lancashire Telegraph.

He said: “ If you look at the free schools, going for a maximum of three and a half years, the percentage of them judged outstanding by Ofsted is higher than the percentage for other schools.

“They are being set up by organisations that have a passion for education and that’s why you see the good results come through.

“When anything goes wrong at a free school, actually they are intervened on more quickly than maintained schools that are failing.

“So this, I think, is a route to success .”

Tackled on Cllr Driver and Mr Jones’ fears about segregation, Mr Cameron said: “I am in favour of faith schools but faith schools should be properly inspected and teach a broad-based curriculum .”

The biggest controversies came around government attempts to ‘force’ Lancashire primaries, including Nelson’s Walverden, to become academies and the Aldridge Foundation’s take-over of Darwen Vale High School.

This puts it in a ‘family’ including DACA, the Enterprise Studio and Sudell Primary, which the town’s prospective Labour candidate Will Straw believes replaces one near-monopoly provider with another.

Mr Jones said: “Free schools take away pupils for existing ones.

“The money should be used to improve them.

“Councils keep responsibility for providing school places without the ability to plan them.

“I have personal reservations about free faith schools and their contribution to religious and ethnic segregation. You only have to look at Northern Ireland.”

Cllr Driver said: “I remain opposed to free schools and academies.

“When the Conservatives controlled the county council we raised standards dramatically in the existing framework.

“I am concerned about free faith schools and the possibility that Islamic schools could lead to the radicalisation of pupils.”

Cllr Driver also sees them selecting pupils by stealth, preferring the old grammar/11-plus system, which puts him uncharacteristically close to Ukip.

It’s prospective parliamentary candidate in Burnley, Tom Commis, said: “Real choice would be allowing grammar schools to open with a more flexible selection policy than the 11-plus. They provide a level playing field.”

QEGS head Simon Corns said: “We opted for the free school route because of falling admissions. Already they have gone up and we now have a broader intake that is almost 50/50 between white and Asian heritage pupils.

“It is as close to the direct grammar model, when I think the school was at its best, as is reasonable today.”

Tauheedul Trust chief executive Hamid Patel said: “We are committed to delivering the highest standards of education to pupils of all faiths and none.

“We already run some of the best schools in the country.

“The success of these schools is underpinned by academic rigour, a curriculum with British Values at its heart and a culture of the highest expectations.”

Rossendale and Darwen Tory MP Jake Berry backed the academy model: “You only have to look at the number of failing schools in Blackburn with Darwen turned around after breaking away from council control to see how much our children’s education has benefited .”

Mr Straw said: “It was a disgrace that Darwen Vale was made an academy when nine out of ten parents opposed it.

“In Darwen we have replaced a council near monopoly with an undemocratic Aldridge Foundation one.

“Labour wants more emphasis on raising teaching standards.”

Ribble Valley’s prospective Green candidate Graham Sowter opposes free schools and academies.

She added: “Education should be about personal development, not turning schools into joyless exam factories.”

If Mr Cameron hoped for support from his coalition partners, Pendle Liberal Democrat peer Tony Greaves offered none: “Academies divert resources from books, teachers and raising standards.”