1:30pm Friday 30th May 2014
By Charlotte Ikonen
One of the BBC’s flagship political debate programmes discussed the free school in Radlett during a discussion about school places.
Question Time, chaired by David Dimbleby, was filmed last Thursday at The Radlett Centre and was aired on BBC One and also broadcast on BBC Radio Five Live.
The panel consisted of justice secretary Chris Grayling, shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, Liberal Democrat Jeremy Browne and deputy chairman of UKIP Neil Hamilton, along with writer and campaigner Jack Monroe and presenter Kirstie Allsopp.
During the show, an audience member asked the panel if parents should have to send their child to a non-chosen secondary school, in reference to the fact that 222 children in south-west Hertfordshire didn’t get a place at their chosen secondary schools.
Mr Browne replied: “It is easy to say no, you shouldn’t have to send your child to a school you didn’t choose.
“The problem that we have had is that we have a very static system where schools are maintained which are unpopular and local authorities try and allocate children to unpopular schools. What we need is a more dynamic system where schools that are very popular can expand and open up new campuses. And the good schools can flex up to meet parental demands.
“What we need to do is try to insert more choice into the system for parents. And it is difficult to do because of limited finance.”
The free school that was due to open in Radlett in September was then discussed, leading Mr Hunt to claim that parents had been “let down” by the Government.
Michael Gove confirmed in March that Harperbury Free School will not be able to open until September 2015, a year later than originally planned.
The school was due to open in the former Harperbury Hospital in Harpers Lane but the school will not find out next month whether the site has been secured.
One audience member said “everything was put in the way” to prevent the school from opening.
Mr Hunt replied: “The Government have let you down. I know about this hospital site and they have botched it up 100 per cent and it’s a scandal what’s happened to you as a community.”
Mr Hunt, who previously called free schools a “dangerous ideological experiment”, continued: “A free school can be part of an answer in the right place.
“The first job of a government when it comes to education policy is to have enough places and then to have the teachers to teach in those schools. And on both of those issues we have got a government which is failing on the job.
“We saw last week they had raided £400 million from the basic needs budget to fund some of these free schools where we don’t need to places.
“So where you need the places, the crisis you are facing, is as a result of the misallocation of funds by this government and you should hold them to account on that.”
Mr Grayling responded to the comments by claiming £5billion is currently being spent on new school places.
Other issues discussed during the debate were the increasing support for UKIP, the housing crisis and Prince’s Charles recent comments about Putin.
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