At least a further 500 free schools would be opened in England in the next five years under a Conservative government, David Cameron has pledged.
– BBC News
David Cameron claims that free schools raise performance – but is that so? Whilst their intentions seem to be admirable, studies into the performance of free primary and secondary schools maintain that it is too early yet to comment on results in public examinations.
Free schools’ intake also appears to be questioned in terms of social class. Is it favouring non-white children of religion? Are there specific ethnic and religious groups being favoured, setting up faith schools despite the requirement for a fair and transparent admission policy.
Yet, do we get bogged down in technicalities? Perhaps instead we should look at underlying ideas and ask ourselves why there is a need to set up free schools in the first place. For instance, one of the criteria for setting up a free school is proving that there is a genuine demand by the local community; we need to query the reasons for that having to happen, surely.
Locally, a free school was received well by many parents for a variety of reasons. The proposition of a small school with a big curriculum is of obvious appeal. Some parents also were unhappy living in a catchment area where the local school has got a poor reputation. Others sought a smaller, more caring alternative where their statemented children may receive more necessary attention than the bigger existing schools can provide. Indeed, some free schools have been set up specifically to plug a gap in existing resources and provide for autistic children.
So is the current system failing children in our society? Could these schools perhaps offer a different approach to teaching with more flexibility for students and perhaps smaller classes where needed? Could they actually raise the bar on performance as indicated by Cameron? Or is money just being diverted from opening up more places as some critics have claimed?
In truth, there appear to be more questions than answers, and the free schools debate will remain one of contention for the foreseeable future as a result. Whether that suits the prime minister and his party or not remains to be seen.
I have been working as a History tutor for OHS since February 2011 and also work for Edexcel/Pearson as an examiner for History. Prior to that I worked at a couple of secondary schools across Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire as Head of / teacher of History. I graduated from University of Wales with a BscEcon in International history and International politics, and have an MBA and PACE.