100 more free schools approved for England

Published on Friday, 13 July 2012 09:58
Posted by Vicki Mitchem

Another 102 new free schools have been approved to open in England from next year onwards. The first of this new breed of semi-independent state-funded schools - a total of 24 - opened last September.

They are being set up by groups, including charities and religious bodies, teachers, parents and education chains behind academy schools.

Supporters say the expansion will mean there will be a free school in nearly every local authority.

The government says the schools bring choice for parents and will drive up standards.

But critics say they will damage other schools by taking pupils and resources from them and break up the state school system.

On a visit to a school later on Friday, the prime minister is expected to say: "Free schools symbolise everything that is good about the revolution that we are bringing to Britain's schools.

"Choice for parents. Power in the hands of teachers. Discipline. Rigour. High quality education in areas that are crying out for more good local schools."

He will say that the schools are based on the "simple idea" of opening up schools to new providers and that competition will drive up standards across the system.

The first 24 free schools are nearing the end of their first year and another 50 or so are expected to open this September.

The 102 schools being announced today are due to open from 2013 onwards and officials say that when those and the others already approved or open are full to capacity, free schools will have provided up to 100,000 extra places.

Among them is a "University Training School" for Birmingham, sponsored by Birmingham University; a "Marine Academy Primary" for Plymouth; an "East London Science School" and a co-educational sixth form college for Manchester set up by the Altrincham Grammar School for Girls and backed by Manchester City football club.

The club expects recruits to its new academy to study there.

Details released by the government show that about one third of this latest group "characterise themselves as faith schools" and about the same number are planned for London, where there is a shortage of primary places.

Other details are that:

  • 40 are primary schools
  • 28 are secondaries
  • 10 are "all through schools" - primary and secondary combined
  • Five are independent schools which are joining the state sector
  • Five are special schools
  • 12 are "alternative provision" such as schools for those expelled from mainstream schools

Rachel Wolf, the director of the New Schools Network, which advises groups wanting to set up a school, says there is now "huge momentum" behind the scheme.

She said: "Today's announcement sees the free schools movement well on its way to delivering a great new school for every community."

Many teachers and existing schools are behind the latest projects, she said.

PrivatisationCritics of the programme, including teachers' unions, say it is a costly experiment and that schools are being set up in areas where there is not enough demand.

There was a recent outcry over one free school, at Beccles in Suffolk, which had 37 applications for 162 places across three year groups for September. The foundation behind it says it has had more expressions of interest and expects to fill its places, but local campaigners say it is not needed and will damage other schools.

The Department for Education says most of the primaries approved today are in areas with a shortfall of places.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said: "Free schools are neither wanted nor needed.

"[Education Secretary] Michael Gove should come clean and admit that both his free schools and academy programme is about the privatisation of our education system."

Unions also fear free schools will increase division in the state school system.

Source: ©BBC

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