Independent schools: an idea whose time has passed

Great Britain

Christopher Pyne’s plan for “independent” public schools bears a family resemblance to the academies and free schools that have undermined British education.

WHEN Australia’s federal education minister Christopher Pyne claimed that independent public schools are always better than those run by public authorities, he was only repeating what successive education secretaries in Britain have been saying for years.

His plan to spend a lot of public money enticing public schools to become independent, while light on detail, has been British government policy since 2000, when Tony Blair’s education secretary David Blunkett introduced privately run academies. The momentum was briefly lost during Gordon Brown’s prime ministership because Brown and his education secretary Ed Balls were not wholly convinced that private is always better, though they dared not speak the heresy in public.

But since David Cameron’s Conservative-dominated coalition government took office in 2010, the education secretary has been Michael Gove, for whom it is an article of faith that the best schools are private schools. Gove has invented a new sort of privatised education which he calls free schools…

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