Free schools are appearing all over the country, frequently but quietly. Should we want know more about this ‘under the radar’ development, such as what all the fuss is about and what a free school is exactly? Free schools do not admit students on the basis of academic merit nor do they charge for the education itself. Funding comes from taxpayers but in contrast to ordinary state schools they are not run by a local authority.
This idea is not new and was previously in practise in the United States and Sweden. The idea of free schools was thought up by the coalition government after they came into power in 2010. They passed new legislation meaning that pretty much anyone – teachers, charities, businesses and even parents themselves – could set up schools. Such a change was stipulated in the Academies Act of 2010. The act has resulted in 24 free schools being created since autumn 2011. Free schools, as earlier stated, are funded by the taxpayer and the funding they receive is the same as other schools which are run by the state with only one exception: a grant is normally given by the government in order to create the school.
So are the schools truly free and can anyone set one up? Well not quite. Those who want to set up a school have to apply to the Department of Education. In addition they must also comply with the School Admissions Code of Practice – the only priorities available are to children of the founders of the schools. Such schools can be set up by the aforementioned; parents, guardians and teachers. Furthermore charities dedicated to education such as cfBT and religious groups are also viable to set up schools, the latter of which has caused some controversy. Questions regarding whether certain subjects such as science will be taught within the National Curriculum or purely in accordance with the religious group running the school have been raised. However Education Secretary Michael Gove has addressed this and stated that extremist religious groups or extremist groups of any sort are not be able to set up or run free schools. Whilst the schools have more freedom they are still required to meet performance standards, are subject to Ofsted inspections and must offer a suitable curriculum – one that focuses on several elements not just one.
Free schools are a brilliant idea. If as a parent you do not feel your child’s needs are being met in their current school or the school they will eventually go to, surely you should be able to do something about. Setting up the perfect school is one solution. Free schools are growing in popularity as parents’ awareness of education as a passport to the future increases, but is there not something to be said for sending a child to an already established school that has furthered the futures of thousands before them? Free schools may be the latest trend but is there a price to be paid?
BY: Yasmin Levy-Miller