6 Sep 2010

New free schools unveiled by government

The Education Secretary Michael Gove announces details of 16 new free schools for England, with a campaign group backing the idea telling Channel 4 News that many will open in the months ahead.

Michael Gove announces new free schools for England (Reuters)

The New Schools Network (NSN), which offers advice on setting up free schools, said there was a lot of demand.

The education secretary Michael Gove told MPs in June that there had been 700 “expressions of interest” in the programme, but he said today that 16 had been chosen to go forward to the next stage of the process and draw up a business plan.

These schools could open their doors in September 2011.

Rachel Wolf, the director of the NSN, said: “This is only the first tranche. More will be announced in the weeks and months ahead.

“Only the ones the department were absolutely sure were ready and were high quality will open now.

“In terms of demand, in terms of the interest the New Schools Network is receiving, there is a very high number. More than 100 have already put in proposals.”

The NSN, which is due to receive a government grant of £500,000, says evidence from America shows that state schools that are allowed to act independently improve the results of the poorest children.

After the election, Mr Gove rushed through legislation allowing parents, charities and businesses to set up independent schools within the state system.

In the Commons on 21 June, he said: “More than 700 expressions of interest in opening new free schools have been received by the charitable group the New Schools Network, and the majority of them have come from serving teachers in the state school system who want greater freedom to help the poorest children do better.”

Speaking at Westminster Academy school in central London today, he said: “If you were a teacher and you wanted to start up a new school, until this government came to power it was impossible.”

Teachers could now start a school “free of the stifling bureaucracy that has irritated them in the past”.

In a written ministerial statement, Mr Gove said: “All of these proposals have been driven by demand from local people for improved choice for their young people and I am delighted that so many promising proposals have come forward at such an early stage.”

He said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday that 16 was “well in excess of my hopes”.

But shadow education secretary Ed Balls was sceptical: “It’s laughable for Michael Gove to claim that just 16 free schools opening next year exceeds his expectations. In the summer he talked about 700 new free schools and a year ago he was talking about thousands.

“He has spent the last four months working on a plan for just a dozen schools, while cancelling hundreds of new schools and dashing the hopes of 700,000 children. That tells you everything you need to know about the Tory-Lib Dem Government’s priorities on education.”

Mr Gove outlined what he called “a formidable reform programme” for schools, with greater decision-making powers for the best performing schools, simpler Ofsted inspections and a British version of the international baccalaureate.
He said education had been going backwards, adding: “As a nation instead of comparing ourselves with the past we should be comparing ourselves with the best.”

He was “deeply concerned” about the falling number of pupils taking languages and wanted to make sure Britain could compete in Asia.

As such, the regulator Ofqual would be strengthened and encouaged to compare British qualifications with those from other countries.

Mr Gove also promised to close the learning gap between rich and poor with the “pupil premium”, which gives extra money to schools teaching deprived pupils.

“Schools should be engines of social mobility,” he said.

The 16 Proposed Free Schools
Bedford and Kempston Free School, Bedford Borough; The Childcare Company, Slough; Discovery New School, West Sussex; The Free School Norwich, Norfolk; Haringey Jewish Primary School, Haringey; I-Foundation Primary School, Leicester; King's Science Academy, Bradford; Mill Hill Jewish Primary School, Barnet; Nishkam Education Trust, Birmingham; North Westminster Free School (ARK), Westminster; Priors Marston and Priors Hardwick School, Warwickshire; Rivendale Free School, Hammersmith and Fulham; St Luke's School, Camden; Stour Valley Community School, Suffolk; West London Free School, Ealing or Hammersmith and Fulham; Wormholt North Hammersmith Free School (ARK), Hammersmith and Fulham (to be known as Burlington Primary Academy)