Monday, 12 May 2014

Just what is the real problem with Free Schools?

The revelation that Michael Gove has been raiding the budget for primary schools of £400 million to fund his free schools shows once again that the current government’s real objective is not about building new schools or fulfilling its duty to provide children with school places. It’s not even really about choice. It’s about using its time in government to cause the maximum possible damage to the comprehensive school system.

Gove has done everything possible to provide a sheltered environment for his new schools. He’s used legislation to ensure that no one can build any other kind of new school. He’s provided Free Schools with privileged funding and raided other budgets to support them. He’s allowed them to overrun their projected capital start-up costs. Perhaps more importantly, he’s been frantically busy inside the DfE reallocating resources to try to hide their desperate shortcomings. As the evidence grows of a disproportionate failure rate, it also emerged that Free schools,are getting extra support and resources to help them survive, resources that are unavailable for other struggling schools.

As well as revealing the nakedly ideological project underpinning the Free Schools policy, what this has also shown is that the Department knows there is something very wrong with Free Schools. Even the government has had to admit this with the Schools Minister John Nash recently quoted as saying ‘Experience has shown us that free schools in their first years of operation are different from other open academies and face problems that are not educational in origin.’

We think that parents and all those who are thinking about getting involved with these schools deserve to know what it is that’s so problematic about this school. That’s why we have published this briefing note on Free Schools. Our briefing focuses on what we think are fundamental structural flaws that stem from the way these schools have been set up in law and outside the local authority system. We argue that far from representing a few bad apples, the recent scandals that have engulfed several Free Schools tell us something very important about them, something that the Department for Education does not want you to know.

Our message is, if you’re thinking about signing your child up for a Free School, about getting involved in governing a Free School, or even  about setting one up, read this briefing - and think again. 

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