One of the Conservatives’ main educational policies is to open a further 500 free schools around England, create an extra 270,000 places for students over the next five years. Nicky Morgan has described the free schools as the “modern engines of justice”, but are they the answer to England’s education problem?
Free schools are a type of academy, which is state funded and not controlled by a local authority. They were introduced with the ambition of bringing more choice and innovation to education allowing local parents and community groups to create their own schools if they believed there was a lack of good quality schooling in the area. To set up a free school, founding groups must submit applications to the Department of Education who then accepts or declines the application. The government so far have accepted and opened 254 free schools across England, creating a total of 125,000 student places.
Nicky Morgan believes that free schools have the power to “break the cycle of disadvantage” schools and that “free schools are at the heart of the government’s commitment to deliver real social justice by ensuring all pupils have access to a world-class education” with the intention to place these in the most deprived areas. Of these schools a total of 72% have been built in areas which previously had a shortage of school places.
But what about the other 28% of schools built? This means 71 schools have been built in areas not ‘necessarily’ in need of additional places. Tristam Hunt, the shadow education secretary, has stated it is “an irresponsible use of public funds” . Tristam Hunt went on to saying that “when there is a shortage of school places, teachers, raising class sizes and schools facing further budget cuts, people will find it off that David Cameron continues to plough hundreds of millions of pounds into building new schools in the areas where there is already a surplus of places”. Christine Blower, leader of the NUT union has also said that “free schools and academies do not raise the standards in any more effective way than maintained schools” so does this mean the money should be put into the current schools in these areas not building new schools?
So with the Conservatives new scheme to build free schools around England inevitable, are they allowing schools to be built in areas that currently have an excess in school places? Therefore wasting public funds as Tristam Hunt has stated? Or are the Conservatives planning for the future, building schools in areas that are expected to see a spike in pupil numbers in the coming years?
So is the David Cameron and Nicky Morgan’s free school strategy the answer to deprived areas having the opportunity to receive the best education possible? Have your say..