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In September 2011, the first 24 free schools were opened, followed by another 50 in September 2012. More than one hundred applications for new free schools have now been approved to open in September 2013 and beyond.
According to Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, free schools enable “a school system in which teachers have more power and in which they are more accountable to parents – not politicians”. Sounds good to us!
Free schools are all-ability state-funded schools set up in response to what local people say they want and need in order to improve education for children in their community. Once approved, they receive funding from central government.
Significantly, free schools have greater freedoms than local authority schools and heads can make decisions about the curriculum, how they reward their teachers and how they spend their money. This means they can listen to parents about what is important to them.
Choosing a school for our children
Choosing a school for our children comes down to more than exam results. We are looking at free school resources, school buildings, quality school furniture, school facilities, staff and the overall school ambience.
Free school head teachers, now in control of the money, could take education and the opportunities provided for students within a school setting to a whole new level. Financially savvy heads can look at everything from the best staff to the best free school furniture suppliers to ensure they are serious contenders in winning parents’ votes when it comes to choosing schools for our children.
However, there has been much criticism of free schools, such as the National Union of Teachers, who believe the programme is wreaking havoc with co-ordinated pupil placement, creating surplus places and pitching schools against each other.
Competition drives up school standards
It is this pitching schools against each other that holds the key to improving standards in education. The Government is using free schools to open up the school system to new providers and use the competition that results to drive up standards. In the world outside education, choice is welcomed. Why not in education?
By making it a competitive playing field, those holding the purse strings are more likely to opt for the best for their school; the best exam results, the best after school clubs, the best range of subjects from academic to vocational, the best school facilities, the best school furniture, in an attempt to win our vote and select that school for our child’s education.