In April 2017 the Department for Education (DfE) approved applications for 111 new free schools to be built. It is proposed that these schools will be led by other high-performing schools to help share good practice and help attainment, as set out in the government’s current education proposals.
What is a free school?
Free schools are funded by the government but are not run by the local council. Places at free schools are open to all pupils. They cannot use an academic selection process to select pupils like a grammar school does.
These schools have a lot of freedom in the way they operate. The main differences being that they can set their own pay and conditions for staff and change the length of school terms and the school day. Free schools do not have to follow the national curriculum and can employ teachers who do not have a qualified teacher status. However, from my experience of free schools so far, they don’t tend to exercise these powers to a great extent.
Free schools are run on a not-for-profit basis and can be set up by charities, universities, independent schools, community and faith groups, teachers, parents and businesses.
Since 2014, more than 80% of mainstream free schools have been approved in areas where there was a need for more school places. Others are opened in response to a parental demand to create competition and drive up standards where the existing provision is not adequate.
Are the plans for free schools good or bad, what’s your view?
The statistics show that free schools are one of the highest performing groups of non-selective state schools. 29% of those inspected by Ofsted receiving an ‘Outstanding’ rating.
124 free schools have opened since 2015, with a further 376 set to open by 2020. This means it is likely that more than 500 new free schools will be open by September 2020.
This strategy appears to have contributed to an overall positive impact on children’s education as there is now 1.8 million more children in a ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ school compared to 2010.
The new free school agenda has been open to much criticism as well as praise. The approval for over 100 free schools to open over the next year demonstrates the government’s determination to tap into the expertise that already exists within the school system to ensure standards continue to rise.
Has there been any criticism of the plans for new free schools?
Whilst the new free school agenda has been praised by some, Justine Greening, as the Education Secretary has also received criticism for the plans. Critics say existing schools currently face a funding crisis and yet the government is pressing ahead with spending on free schools.
A recent survey of 1,361 teachers, including 420 senior leaders published by the National Foundation for Educational Research for the Sutton Trust found:
- 40% of schools were cutting back on A-level and GCSE subject choices as a result of budget pressures.
- 65% of secondary school head teachers stated they were having to cut back on staff with nearly a third having to balance their school’s budgets using funds intended to help disadvantaged pupils.
It’s an interesting time in the education sector with political plans having a massive impact on children’s education. Good or bad, one thing is for sure, every year there are more and more children now in school receiving an education. There are also planned changes ahead as to how that need will continue to be met.
For more information on free schools or any other education matters, please contact our Education team on 0161 475 7676.