Welcome: 24 new free schools

What’s your view of the new free schools: meeting real local needs or detracting from existing resources?

Free schools have been under the media spotlight recently, as the first wave of this new breed of establishment open their doors to pupils for the first time. But – as it seems with most issues relating to education – both the idea and the reality of free schools seem to be hotly contested. Read more and have your say[GP1] .

The BBC explained in its overview that free schools are state-funded but semi-independent, and similar to academies because “they don’t have to follow the national curriculum, can vary the pay and conditions of teachers, are directly funded by central government and are outside of local authority control”.

The Beeb’s article looked at the Aldborough free school, set up because of a shortage of school places in the area; it will apparently shave a week off each side of the summer holidays and offer an optional extended day, from 8am to 6pm.

It also reported on the Krishna-Avanti school in Leicester, which aims to eventually comprise half Hindu pupils and half those from other faiths, and on the opposition of teaching unions to free schools because they say the new school will break up state education.

“Wasting taxpayers’ cash”

Meanwhile the online version of Britain’s second biggest-selling newspaper, the Daily Mail, reported in a piece peppered with archive images of The Beatles in full 60s regalia, that a new free sc hool in Ormskirk, Lancashire, has been “slammed” by a Labour MP for “wasting taxpayers’ cash”. Apparently the Maharishi School in Ormskirk will offer yoga classes, meditation and “follow the way of The Beatles”.

The Mail quoted Labour MP Lisa Nandy predicting that: “People will be shocked that their taxes are going on teaching transcendental meditation.”

In August The Mail also reported that an evangelical church with creationism at the heart of its belief system – the Everyday Champions Church, based in Newark, Nottinghamshire – has been given outline approval to run a free school.

Coupling education with child care

While the Aldborough free school will reportedly be extending school hours and terms, the Free School Norwich will be operating “almost c

Mrs Tania Sidney-Roberts, Principal of Norwich Free School

ontinuously” in the heart of the city, “integrating high-quality education and child care year-round,” according to the Express.

Norwich Evening News reported that the school will cater for primary age pupils aged four to 11, and that, unlike most schools, it will be open 51 weeks a year, from 8.15am to 5.45pm six days a week.

Principal Mrs Sidney-Roberts revealed to the paper that: “We were four times oversubscribed and it was a case of random allocation. We got Norfolk County Council’s schools admissions team in and had a lottery.

“We had four crates of names and picked them out. It really was a case of picking names out of a hat, other than the siblings whose brothers or sisters had already got a place.

“We’ve got a mix of all abilities, faiths and special needs.”

Altruism

In Birmingham, a new primary was getting ready for the new term: Nishkam – which, The Guardian explained, means selflessness or altruism in Punjabi – will be the Midlands’ first “Sikh ethos” school and one of just five Sikh schools in the country, although “open to all faiths and races”. So far most of the refurbishment work has been donated through the Sikh convention of Daswand, and the community raised £1.3m to buy the building, supplemented by a £900,000 lottery grant. It will receive DfE funding soon.

The Guardian also reported that its analysis of the catchment areas of the first 24 approved free schools shows a slant towards the middle class, with white, working-class pupils under represented.

“Hidden costs” of promotion

Its report also claimed that there has been a “hidden cost” of promoting free schools, the legislation for which was apparently “pushed through parliament last summer under procedures usually reserved for counter-terrorism measures”.  The paper went on to report that the government has declined to reveal the costs of funding individual free schools, as well as requests under the Freedom of Information Act to identify groups applying to open free schools next year.

Toby Young’s two-year journey

And finally, The Daily Telegraph featured an article by journalist Toby Young about his last minute headaches and two-year journey setting up the much-publicised West London Free School – which has become a focus for both supporters and those opposing free school policy.

“My wife jokes that if I’d devoted as much time to my career as I have to the school, we’d have enough money to send all our kids to Eton,” joked Toby.

What’s your view of the new free schools: meeting real local needs or detracting from existing resources?


One thought on “Welcome: 24 new free schools

  1. This sounds like the law of un-intended consequences is at work in yet another government policy. Still, I expect the government had some idea that some of these outcomes might come along (esp. the ones that suit their political aims).

    I wonder if they are happy at what the article suggests is a loss of control over the curriculum in the free schools, since the government likes to have a say in this area e.g. with the focus on the academic, languages etc and the shift away from vocational. Is there an angle here for schools to ‘go free’ to avoid government directives that they don’t want to implement? Food for thought I hope…

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