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Boris unveils Free Schools plan

10/10/2012 Joanna
The mayor of London Boris Johnson has unveiled plans to open a new wave of Free Schools across the capital.

Speaking at the annual Conservative party conference in Birmingham, Mr Johnson said he would be establishing a body called New Schools for London and opening up the Greater London Authority's property portfolio (police, fire brigade and London Underground) to help "dozens" of prospective establishments to find suitable sites.

Free Schools are all-ability state-funded schools established by committed teachers, charities, parents and education experts in response to demands from the local community, and 102 of them have already been approved by the government to open in 2013 and beyond.

However, Mr Johnson said he did not just want a "handful" of them to open in London, but "dozens of them across the capital".

"I am a passionate supporter of what [education secretary] Michael Gove is doing with his Free Schools revolution, which is seeing parents and teachers and charities coming together to create wonderful, new places of learning," the mayor told delegates.

As well as opening new schools, Mr Johnson said he wanted to boost the teaching of 'stem' subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) to improve the employability of people once they leave education.

The move to provide assistance in finding suitable sites for establishments was welcomed by Natalie Evans, chief operating officer of the charity New Schools Network, which assists groups in setting up free schools.

"London is particularly difficult, often due to a lack of available property and property prices," she told the BBC.

However, Len Duvall, the leader of the London Assembly's Labour group and assembly member for Greenwich and Lewisham, told the news provider that if this proposal means "handing over police stations on peppercorn rents", it could harm police budgets, which have already faced austerity measures.

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