Schoolzone blog: Free schools need more scrutiny

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11 Nov 2014

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The looming national crisis in school places has allowed various self-interest groups, such as grammar schools, to use it as justification for doing anything that gets more bums on seats, as we mentioned in a recent post, Secondary moderns on the rise. But Gove's treasured Free Schools initiative is the definition of un-moderated, un-regulated school expansion. However, voices seem to be uniting in opposition to this willy-nilly spread of undemocratic school provision.

“A few years ago, in order to launch the programme, the scrutiny process was perhaps not as strong as it should have been,” says Frank Green, national schools commissioner at the Department for Education.

“In London we’ve also got huge squeezes in certain areas where, you know, kids can’t go to school,” she said. “Yet down the road, where it’s completely not needed, we’ve got free schools opening without adequate facilities. And it just does seem a little bit bonkers.”

Meanwhile Ralph Berry, lead member for children and young people at Bradford Metropolitan District Council, says “There has to be some, in my view, return to a coherent process of commissioning, of planning and organising places,” he said. “We do actually need to go back to the old system of acquiring land, compulsory purchase orders, and proper discussion with the community, because we need schools where people live.”

Natalie Evans, director of the New Schools Network predicted that there would be more failures among the first free schools owing to "legacy issues from the early days”.

“There will be more failures, there’s no question. I wish I could say I think there won’t be, but I’m sure there will be," she said.

All as reported in the TES.

In the context of school places (at least) there's nothing wrong with suitable members of the public opening appropriate schools where there is a need, so in that sense Free Schools could be a good thing, but the applications for these need proper scrutiny so that they aren't just compounding the school places crisis. As these voices above suggest, opening a school where none is needed is probably going to be a waste of money, which is much needed to grow school places elsewhere. And, if the schools are poorly planned and then fail, even if they are in an area which meets the need for places, they are not only a waste of money, but their subsequent failure throws the pupils back onto state schools, compounding their problems.

We need a return to planning of school provision - surely that's obvious to everyone: not ideologically, but because the numbers just don't add up.




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