Free Schools? | Nothing in life is free!

No free schools

After over 2000 Caversham residents signed a petition against free school location at Albert Road Park, this article came to my mind. Do we need a Free School?

Free schools are ‘additional schools’ and were set up in the Academies Act 2010. Free schools are brand new schools which are additional to schools planned and provided for in a local authority area. A free school can be set up by any suitable proposer where there is evidence of parental demand such as a petition or declaration from interested parents. The proposer could be a charity, an academy sponsor, a university, an independent school, a faith group or an edu-business. Free schools will have the same freedoms as academies. Free schools may be run for profit by private companies.
“For example I admire the sentiments behind some of the faith organisations creating Free Schools, however, I suspect that just because you say that a school is open to everyone in reality it will be known as a school devoted to a particular faith and remain closed to those of different faiths and none.”

I have five reservations about free schools.

  1. Free schools undermine local democracy
  2. Funding for free schools will damage funding to other schools
  3. Choice and competition are ideological obsessions, they don’t raise standards but widen inequalities
  4. Free schools could lead to school closures
  5. Free schools lead directly to privatization and education being run by private, profit-making companies

The creation of ‘free schools’ (known as ‘additional schools’ in the Academies Act 2010) are inevitably going to damage the educational provision of other local schools if they attract pupils from them The more academies and free schools you create the less maintained schools get. This creates a two tier school system of the haves and the have not’s, those that can afford to travel to a ‘choice’ school and those that cannot, not very fair or equitable.

It is now almost universally agreed that Finland has the best education system in Europe. Its school system reaches the ideal – it produces both the highest standards and the best equity. There is no competition at all within the Finnish school system. Why is the government not aspiring to this and learning the lessons? Why are they trying to implement policies that have failed in other countries? Is it a case of ideology over evidence and pragmatism?