Labour conference: Balls says free schools will be ‘socially divisive’


Coalition government policies on setting up new academies and free schools will be “deeply socially divisive” and unfair to disabled children, according to the former children’s, schools and families secretary.

Ed Balls told a fringe meeting at the Labour conference in Manchester that he was “really concerned” about the government’s new Academies Act.

He said that one of the “very striking things” about the “first wave” of new academies was that they had much higher GCSE results than average and were lower in terms of deprivation and had “much lower” than average numbers of pupils with special educational needs (SEN).

Balls said he did not think that parents already fighting for the rights of their disabled children would have the time to set up and run their own “free” schools.

And he said he found it “very concerning indeed” that disabled children from lower income families were those “most likely to lose out” under the government’s policies, which was the “absolute opposite direction” to what Labour was trying to achieve.

He said that free schools would be free from any accountability or oversight and his “big fear” was that “what that will mean for many children is that they will be failed”.

Balls later told the conference that the policy of setting up free schools was “the most socially divisive education policy in the last 60 years”.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, told the fringe meeting: “If we get a plethora of free schools and academies the idea of strategic planning goes out of the window.

“These schools will take money out of their local authority at a time when we know that we are facing massive cuts in public spending.”

She said this would mean local authorities would not have the resources to fund support services for disabled children.

Blower said there were “really big questions” about whether disabled children would be admitted to the new academies, and “huge questions” about whether they would be admitted to the new free schools.

29 September 2010