The first Free Schools in the UK opened in September 2011, just 15 months after the Secretary of State, Rt Hon. Michael Gove MP, invited proposals from groups interested in setting up a new school. That in itself is testament to the incredible energy and commitment of the first pioneering projects. Following their lead are hundreds of other groups with exciting and innovative projects. And as a result of their immense hard work and effort, there will be a greater opportunity for children to learn and develop in the way that’s best for them.
In this clip, the Secretary of State speaks about the 24 Free Schools that opened in September 2011.
What are Free Schools?
FREE Free Schools could be primary or secondary schools. They could be located in traditional school buildings or appropriate community spaces such as office buildings or church halls. They could be set up by a wide range of proposers—including charities, universities, businesses, educational groups, visionary teachers or committed parents—who want to make a difference to the educational landscape. They might be needed because there simply aren’t enough schools in a local area and children have to travel too far to get to the nearest one.
What unites all Free Schools is that they’re being set up in response to real demand within a local area for a greater variety of schools, they meet rigorous standards and they’re all absolutely committed to providing young people with the best possible chance to succeed.
It’s clear from the Academies programme that this autonomy has transformed the life chances of pupils. Free Schools will have some additional freedoms. For example, teachers in Free Schools will not necessarily need to have Qualified Teacher Status.
Like academies, Free Schools will be funded on a comparable basis to other state-funded schools. Groups running Free Schools cannot make a profit. They will be subject to the same Ofsted inspections as all state schools and will be expected to maintain the same rigorous standards.
The admissions arrangements of any Free School must be fair and transparent. Free Schools are expected to be open to pupils of all abilities from the area and cannot be academically selective. Free Schools will need to take part in their local coordinated admissions process, and so parents apply for places for their child in the same way as any other local school.
Who can set up a Free School?
A Free School could be set up by any suitable proposer, where there is evidence of parental demand such as a petition or declaration from interested parents and a clear and compelling business case. This could include one or more of the following groups:
- academy sponsors
- independent schools
- community and faith groups
- businesses (on a not-for-profit basis)
While the Government is making it easier to set up a new school, proposers are still required to go through a robust process. The Secretary of State will consider each proposal on its merits, and take into account all matters relevant to that proposal.
He would expect that all proposals will comply with all aspects of the rigorous suitability and vetting tests throughout the application process, including CRB checks, and will reject any proposers who advocate violence, intolerance, hatred or whose ideology runs counter to the UK’s democratic values.
For those interested in having a new school in their area, but without the time or experience to set one up, there is advice available from the New Schools Network (NSN), an independent charity. NSN can also link them with more experienced groups to help make a new school a reality. The Department is running a competitive process to grant fund an organization to provide support to potential applicants.
What will the impact be?
A similar system in the United States of America—the Charter Schools programme—has shown how particular schools with these freedoms, coupled with inspirational teachers and leaders, can have a huge impact on academic performance and the numbers of pupils staying on in education. These schools are normally set up in areas where there are high levels of deprivation. They demonstrate that when the right conditions are put in place, young people can thrive. One of the most successful chains of Charter Schools is the Knowledge Is Power Programme schools (KIPP). Nationally more than 85 per cent of KIPP students have gone on to college despite over 80 per cent of students coming from low-income families.
In the UK it is clear from the academies programme that when schools have autonomy on what is taught and how a school is managed, it has transformed the life chances of pupils who attend these schools.
Any groups interested in establishing a new Free School may contact the New Schools Network (NSN) to discuss their ideas before making an application.