BLOG: The Deer Park school fiasco is sympton of a Conservative-created crisis

The bizarre new location - smack bang on the A316 with a playground on the roof - for the optimistically named 'Deer Park' free school in Richmond exposes Richmond Council's failure under the Conservatives to plan properly for school spaces based on areas of need.


When the Coalition Government came into office in 2010, the Conservatives implemented their free schools policy, in return for the Liberal Democrat policy of a pupil premium, which is £2.5bn of extra money directed at the children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds to help narrow the attainment gap, being funded in full. The Liberal Democrats have also introduced free school meals for under 7s; and expanded free nursery places to cut the cost of childcare and give children the best possible start.

The Conservatives in Richmond have so enthusiastically embraced the Tory free school ideology that they have not been able to deliver on their ultimate responsibility to the Borough's children and their families. The Tories seem to think that they can just sit back and leave it to the market, waiting for a philanthropist or a religious organisation to pop up and solve their problems by opening up a school.

As a result, they have not engaged properly with the community, in particular our community and voluntary sectors, to spot enough opportunities ahead of time in order to proactively encourage suitable free school applications under the legislation which their own party forced through.

And so, we have the unedifying spectacle of senior Conservatives scrabbling around for last minute locations which, exemplified by this one, can border on the surreal.

It doesn't have to be this way. When the Liberal Democrats ran Kingston, the Council co-operated with educational entities (the university and the college) to secure the funding from Government for the new North Kingston Academy - a real success story for that location, and one which was genuinely community-led.

The Liberal Democrats have insisted on protecting school budgets, but without us that protection would evaporate. If the Conservatives had been in government by themselves we would have had profit-making companies running schools, schools budgets slashed and the return of the 1950s O Level/CSE divide.

The Liberal Democrats go into this election with a commitment to protect the education budget from nursery to 19. We will give every child access to a high quality pre-school education, and we will insist that every child is taught by a qualified teacher. We have a clear ambition to eradicate child illiteracy: our changes will mean every child leaves primary school able to read well by 2025.

Compare that to the Conservatives who are now, incredibly, proudly trumpeting a policy to build 500 new free schools across the country, which would blow a giant £4bn hole in the school buildings budget and condemn thousands more children to inadequate and crumbling classrooms in inappropriate locations, while jeopardising our efforts to ensure there are enough school places.