Free School Talk

A Councillor’s thoughts on free schools

In Opinion on May 6, 2013 at 1:28 pm
Photo courtesy of Councillor Michael Pavey

Photo courtesy of Councillor Michael Pavey

By Michael Pavey, Labour Councillor for Barnhill Ward.

I don’t oppose parents or community groups setting up schools within the state system. But these schools must reflect the needs of their local community and they must adhere to a national framework of standards.

Crucially they must not be run for profit.

Education must be about stimulating, challenging and nurturing young lives – not about lining the pockets of investors.

This is a very real danger.

Michael Gove has stated that he has no objection to schools being run for profit. And it is easy to see how this will happen.

Free schools are opening in a fragmented, haphazard way. What at first looks like an attractively diverse tapestry of providers will evolve radically as financial pressures mount.

As standalone providers, free schools lack the economies of scale of local authorities and academy chains with their extensive back-office functions. National education budgets will be flat for the foreseeable future, so free schools will have to seek out alternative sources of investment.

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Labour: the root of the free school movement

In Information on May 4, 2013 at 9:22 am

The coalition government has championed free schools and academies since it came into power. In spite of this, the academies programme was actually launched by the Labour party in 2000 “to reach the significant minority of children leaving school without basic qualifications”.

Indeed, Lord Adonis, who is credited as the architect of academy schools and served as the minister for schools under the Blair and Brown administrations, argued that they are a creation of the Labour party and that the Conservatives are “just pretending to do something fundamentally different” with education.

In an essay for the New Statesman, Lord Adonis said: “Labour set up dozens such ‘free school’ academies before 2010. The only reason why the Tories invented the term ‘free school’ was to pretend they were doing something fundamentally different, instead of continuing one of Labour’s most successful policies.

The big changes of Tory education policy in opposition were to drop selection and the pledge to create new grammar schools. They did this under pressure because of the success of academies in creating a consensus that all-ability schools can achieve just as much but are far fairer, provided they are managed and led effectively.

So how is this different  today? Well for one, Lord Adonis acknowledged that while free schools under the Conservatives are less likely to be in economically disadvantaged areas – which is a key argument of free school critics – they are still a “powerful engine of equality and social mobility”.

New Luton free school is a work in progress

In News on May 3, 2013 at 7:57 am

Luton was one of the first towns to embrace the free school movement: Moorlands, a former independent preparatory school, became one of Michael Gove’s  flagship free schools when it opened in September 2011 as the Barnfield Moorlands Free School, in partnership with the Barnfield Federation.

Now the town will open the doors of another free school this September, in partnership with the Active Education Academy Trust, which is a branch of the Active Luton Trust. The video below shows the location of the new primary school and explains a bit more about it.

River Bank Primary School appointed its head teacher, John Wrigglesworth, in April. In a statement on the council’s website, Mr Wrigglesworth said: “I am delighted to be taking up the head teacher position. Luton schools have been improving steadily in recent years and I am sure that River Bank will help sustain that positive momentum.

“The focus on the provision of high quality PE and sport, coupled with a wide range of other exciting extended opportunities, will both motivate and raise the expectations of children. River Bank will be a school that children, parents and staff are proud to be associated with.”