Tories dismiss Labour school claim
The Conservatives have dismissed a claim by Labour's new shadow education secretary that he now regrets denouncing their flagship free schools policy as a "vanity project for yummy mummies".
Tristram Hunt, who was one of the big winners in Ed Miliband's shadow cabinet reshuffle, confirmed that a Labour government would not close down any of the free schools established under the reforms pioneered by Education Secretary Michael Gove.
In an apparent softening of Labour's rhetoric, the TV historian said he would happily send his children to a free school and promised to put "rocket boosters" under Labour's alternative plans for "parent-led" academies.
Asked in an interview with the Mail on Sunday about his previous dismissal of free schools, Mr Hunt said: "I regret those comments because I think any parents, be they yummy mummies or faddy daddies, involved in the education of their children is great."
He added: "I am putting rocket boosters on getting behind parents and social entrepreneurs... We will keep those free schools going. We aren't in the business of taking them down."
Despite Mr Hunt's more emollient language, Tory Party chairman Grant Shapps said Labour's policy remained unchanged, with restrictions on how and when its parent-led academies could be set up.
"This is the same old Labour policy. They have been saying this for months," he told BBC News.
"Free schools will only be allowed in specific circumstances in specific areas with a whole load of bureaucracy attached."
Mr Hunt acknowledged there were important differences between free schools and parent-led academies which would be restricted to areas where there was a shortage of places, would be financially accountable, and required to employ properly qualified teachers.
He said the changes were necessary to avoid a repeat of what happening at the Al Madinah Muslim school in Derby which is threatened with closure over "unacceptable" teaching standards.
"What is going on in the Al Madinah School in Derby is a terrifying example of the mistakes of Michael Gove's education policy. You have had a system which allows essentially financial irregularities, allegations of an extremist curriculum teaching ideas contrary to British values, because there's no oversight there," he told BBC1's The Andrew Marr Show.