Chris Rowell: When people are free to choose, they choose Free Schools

Yesterday the Prime Minister announced the approval of 18 new Free Schools. This is good news for pupils and parents, increasing choice in education, challenging existing schools to improve, and providing 9,000 much needed school places. It makes it clear that the Government is serious about fulfilling its promise of 500 new Free Schools by 2020.

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With our majority in the House of Commons we can make the changes needed to give children from all backgrounds a better start in life. It is a fact that there are now a record number of good and outstanding schools in the UK - 73 per cent of schools in total - and Free Schools are more likely to be rated as good and outstanding than local authority maintained schools.

Despite this, like most innovations, Free Schools are not without their critics. Time and time again, when a government is forward thinking enough to relinquish control of something and give its citizens more choice, a loud blast from the fog horn of vested interests attempts to drown out debate. The teaching unions would rather not risk someone doing a better job than them, and have again put their own wallets before the needs of Britain’s young people.

It may be that the worst criticism of Free Schools is over, that the vilification of Michael Gove and the death threats against people applying to set them up has become a distant memory, and the performance of Free Schools gradually will silences their once vocal critics. But the fight for better education, and better choice in education, is far from won. Three of the four Labour leadership contenders are opposed to Free Schools, so we can expect opposition to them in this parliament, and maybe an end to them in Labour’s 2020 manifesto.

To counter the naysayers Conservatives need to be vocal about how well Free Schools are doing and cite real examples of how they are turning things around for pupils, families, and communities who had been let down by Labour’s system. We know that a one size fits all solution can only deliver mediocrity, and we must be ready to make the case for yet more freedom of choice in education, such as Individual Education Plans for children with severe learning difficulties, giving their parents the mandate and budget to commission an education tailored to their specific needs. Parents, not teaching unions, know best what children need, so it is parents who should be given more choice when it comes to education.

Chris managed Andrea Jenkyns MP; successful 2015 General Election campaign, in which she won the Morley and Outwood constituency from Labour's Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls. He has served for two terms as Chairman of Yorkshire and Humber Conservative Future and has been deputy Deputy Chairman of his local Conservative Association.

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