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£5k a child is a bargain for freedom

WOULD you believe David Cameron if he said that your child would be offered a free place at a new independent school under the Tories?

I had my doubts until the Conservative conference last week. We didn’t learn much from the speeches, but what I picked up behind the scenes made me think they might just pull this off.

From defence to the economy, a radical agenda is being put together. They just don’t want Gordon Brown to know about it.

George Osborne’s ‘cuts’ speech left me yawning. Stating the bleeding obvious, I thought. And where is his plan for growing the economy?

It wasn’t until later that I learned that he is quietly hatching a plan to cut corporation tax to the lowest of any major country.

Why didn’t he say so? He didn’t want Brown to nick the idea in his pre- budget report, and he doesn’t mind if the PM copies his pay freeze plan.

On defence, there are Tory plans to raid the wasteful NHS budget to give veterans VIP medical treatment for life.

Is that such a big deal? Consider this. In the Falklands, 256 soldiers were killed. Yet 264 Falklands veterans have committed suicide. What about Iraq and Afghanistan veterans? We don’t know. Appallingly, no one keeps a record. This will change.

But education is the most promising policy. Michael Gove said that, as schools secretary, he’d give £5,000 a pupil to any independent school teaching only state kids.

Think about it. The average class in England has 22 kids - that’s £110,000, per year. The average teacher is on £35,000 a year. You don’t need an A-Level to know the maths stacks up. The best teachers and heads would be able to set up on their own.

Now, you may think: who can be bothered to set up their own school? The Swedes thought that when they introduced this policy in 1993. But people did. A THOUSAND new schools opened up – in villages, towns and inner cities. All government did was sign the cheque.

Until last week, I saw a flaw in the Tory plan. They were going to ban anyone from making a profit out of a school.

I was wrong. From my conversations last week, I’m confident Cameron will let the new schools make a profit.

I’m told it will be called a ‘management fee’. They can call it ‘Louise’ if they like because it will give the go- ahead to what we need.

Hero headmasters, the ones who turn around sink schools, will be able to become education entrepreneurs.

Bad news for local authority bureaucrats who boss teachers and gobble money intended for educating our kids.

Under the Tories, the head would be able to say: “I’ll run this school as a company” and get EVERY PENNY direct.

Poor kids would be worth closer to £7,000 to teach. And the Tories are deadly serious about reaching into Labour’s welfare ghettoes.

And allowing these schools to make a profit would also allow them to expand and avoid waiting lists, as happened in Sweden

Hiring Iain Duncan Smith, who has done more than anyone in Westminster to combat poverty, is a declaration of serious intent.

If Cameron is serious about changing welfare so work actually pays for those on benefits, ending the poverty trap, he’ll have my support.

Once, Cameron would have been mortified to have been seen drinking champagne in the middle of a recession.

But last week, he didn’t mind. At least, so he told me (I handed him the glass at The Spectator’s party, and he claims he’s forgiven me).

Voters don’t care who drinks what. It doesn’t tell you anything Apart from David Miliband’s penchant for half pints of lager – a measure which sums him up.

Parents want to know: will my kid have a better education? If Cam gets this right, an English school industry will be born - and new schools will reach the kids who need them most.

It will give us something we haven’t had for a decade or more: a Tory policy worth voting for.

 FRASER NELSON is Editor of The Spectator



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