Sunday, 28 August 2011

24 Free Schools Is a Weak Start to Coalition Campaign Against Local Authority Schools

Wandswoth lobby against an ARK free school proposal
24 new 'free schools' are to open in September. 17 are primary, 5 secondary and 2 'all-through'. The government will pay capital costs of between £110m and £130m  for these schools, which will open in a variety of buildings including former shops, offices and libraries. Their running costs will also be provided by the government and they will operate outside local democratic control.  The capital costs are much higher than first suggested and budget issues may have restricted the number approved this year. If the budget is increased it will impact on already  stretched local authority budgets.

The government will try and sell the 24 schools as a great policy success but the number is actually very low in comparison will earlier government claims and the receipt of 323 applications in the first round and 281 in the second.  However numbers are likely to be artifically boosted because the government will insists that any new schools needed to address a rising pupil population must be free schools or academies. They will of course spin that the resultant increase in numbers reflects public support for the policy.

This is a similar tactic to that used under the Labour government to ensure that the new school needed in Brent was an academy: the Tory-Lib Dem Council administration were told that there was no chance of a new local authority secondary school. The same argument is being repeated today as the Labour council struggle to address the shortage of school places. Denied the possibility of new local authority primary schools  the Council will be under pressure to support free school bids. Providers such as ARK will claim they are performing a valuable service by providing for children who would otherwise be without a school place.

In fact, rather than being initiated by parents or teachers the list  includes two ARK primary schools which are run by hedge fund speculators,  while former fee paying Batley Grammar School will now be state-funded giving what one parent referred to as an unexpected 'bonus' when he no longer has to pay fees. The list also includes a significant number of faith schools.

Aldborough E-ACT Free School Redbridge
All Saints Junior School Reading
ARK Conway Primary Academy Hammersmith & Fulham
ARK Atwood Primary Academy Westminster
Batley Grammar School Kirklees
Bradford Science Academy Bradford
Bristol Free School Bristol
Canary Wharf College Tower Hamlets
Discovery New School West Sussex
Eden Primary School Haringey
Etz Chaim Primary School Barnet
The Free School, Norwich Norfolk
Krishna-Avanti Primary School Leicester
Langley Hall Primary Academy Slough
Maharishi School, Lathom Lancashire
Moorlands School Luton
Nishkam Free School Birmingham
Priors Free School Warwickshire
Rainbow Free School Bradford
Sandbach School Cheshire
St Luke's Church of England Primary School Camden
Stour Valley Community School Suffolk
West London Free School Hammersmith & Fulham
Woodpecker Hall Primary Academy Enfield

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