UK & World News
Nick Clegg: No 'Coalition Crisis' Over Schools
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has defended his views on free schools saying it's "not a great coalition crisis" but rather a difference of opinion.
Mr Clegg is expected to dramatically disown key parts of the coalition's education policy in a speech at a London school this week.
He insists that free schools and academies should have teachers who are all qualified and that the national curriculum should be taught in every school.
Speaking to Sky News, he said the Liberal Democrat view was to retain freedom, autonomy and innovation for schools but ensure the "basic building blocks of an education" were provided.
He said the party's view on education was hardly a "state secret" but it puts him distinctly at odds with David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove.
Mr Clegg said: "Of course there are tensions and pinch points, we are not identical parties.
"No one should be surprised about this and it's not a political crisis when some of those differences are articulated in public."
But Sky's chief political correspondent Jon Craig said senior Tories were reportedly "furious" at Mr Clegg's attack on free schools.
"Senior Tories are pretty furious about this attack and they're pointing to some remarks by David Laws, the Liberal Dem Education Minister, close ally of Nick Clegg, in the Commons as recently as Thursday, he was talking about how free schools were doing an absolutely fantastic job."
Speaking in response to a damning Ofsted report on a free school in Derby, Mr Laws said:
"We do want to make sure that teachers who teach in schools have good qualifications and capacity to teach but there are plenty of teachers who may not have formal qualifications who will still do a superb job."
Mr Clegg maintains he is a supporter of free schools but wants to strike a "sensible balance" between Labour and the Conservatives.
He said: "Yes, give schools more freedom and autonomy but also give parents the reassurance that their children ? are taught by qualified teachers to the same standard as any other school in the rest of the country."
He said that while Labour wanted to "strangle" school autonomy and micro-manage everything in the classroom, the Conservatives appeared not to want any "basic standards".
In response to Mr Clegg's comments, the Department for Education (DfE) said free schools were raising education standards and giving parents greater choice.
A spokesman said: "They are run by teachers - not local bureaucrats or Westminster politicians - and are free to set their own curriculum, decide how they spend their money and employ who they think are the best people for the job."
The spokesman said free schools were able to hire "brilliant people" even if they had not attained qualified teacher status (QTS).
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats former minister in the Home Office, Jeremy Browne, said free schools were a liberal policy that the party should support.
The Taunton Deane MP said: "Well I support free schools. I think free schools are a small "L" liberal policy."
But Lord Browne, who was axed from his job as Home Office Minister by Mr Clegg in the reshuffle on October 7, said it would be "a mistake" for the party to shift to the left.
"I think we should be on the liberal centre ground," he told BBC's Sunday Politics.
Mr Clegg denies the new stance is an attempt to cosy up to Labour, calling the suggestion "complete and utter nonsense".
He also played down suggestions of a rift with fellow Liberal Democrat and schools minister David Laws, who last week defended the performance of unqualified teachers.
He said: "David Laws is right that that is the policy of the Department for Education. He is quite right in stating that is the present approach."