Parents take back-seat in Free School Initiative

27 Aug

The number of Free Schools being established by parents has fallen to 5% of the most recent cohort of state-funded, independent schools.   In May 2013, the government announced that 102 new Free Schools had been approved to open in September 2014 – the fourth wave of free schools, which would bring the total up to 292.  But only 5% of the latest tranche is being spearheaded by parents.  In 2011, when Free Schools were first established, a third were started by parents, the most high-profile of which was the West London Free School of whom Toby Young, a journalist, was one of the founders. 

In the latest wave, 28% of the Free Schools are being established by academy chains and 27% by existing schools and academies.

The Department for Education (DfE) has become very stringent on the criteria for setting up a Free School to avoid embarrassing failures. Free Schools mirror the Charter School movement in the United States. According to a report from the Centre for Education Reform, The State of Charter Schools, 15% of these schools were closed across the country since 1992 – because of underperformance.   When education in the USA catches cold, England’s learning landscape sneezes.   By using very strict criteria, the DfE is vaccinating us against possible infection from across the Atlantic pond.

Twenty-four free schools began in the first wave in September 2011, 55 in the second wave in September 2012 and 111 in the third wave in September 2013.

Three main categories of individuals and organisations have proposed and created Free Schools – civil groups, sponsored organisations and Further and Higher Education Institutions.

The civil groups include religious bodies (nine Free Schools are Christian, seven Sikh, six Muslim, five Jewish and two Muslim), community organisations (responsible for 24 Free Schools) teacher consortiums (23 Free Schools), charities (16 Free Schools and small and medium companies (three Free Schools).

Sponsored organisations run 16 Free Schools, 11 of which are under the aegis of parents. Existing providers can be sub-divided into the following categories.

  1. Eighteen Independent Schools run Free Schools.
  2. State Schools are responsible for 37 Free Schools.
  3. Academy chains proposed and are now responsible for 14 Free Schools.

Further and Higher Educational Institutions such as Kings College, London, Birmingham University and Chester University have spearheaded 11 Free Schools.

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