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Next wave of free schools receive green light

29/05/2013 Kelly
The government has given permission for the next cohort of free schools to open across England, which is likely to have significant ramifications for education recruitment.

Education secretary Michael Gove has approved the opening of over 100 more free schools, which will eventually offer around 50,000 new school places.

The rise of the free school

Free schools are directly funded by central government and run by organisations such as parents' and teachers' groups, teachers, voluntary bodies, businesses, universities and trusts.

Being independent from local government control, these not-for-profit institutions therefore have more freedom in areas such as setting their own curricula and deciding the lengths of school terms and days.

They were introduced in the Academies Act 2010, with 24 subsequently opening in September 2011, 57 having opened to date in 2012-13 and another 109 scheduled to open from September 2013 onwards.

Over 100 free schools to open from 2014

Now, following what the Department for Education (DfE) describes as a "rigorous application process", in which applicants were required to demonstrate parental demand, 102 more free schools have moved into the pre-opening stage.

These schools will start educating children from 2014 onwards and together with free schools already operating or scheduled to open, will eventually accommodate an estimated 130,000 pupils.

DfE figures indicate 78 of the latest cohort to secure government approval are mainstream schools, eight are special schools and 16 alternative provision, as well as that 33 are primary schools, 36 are secondaries and 11 are all-through schools.

Furthermore, 72 per cent of all free school approvals, including 91 per cent of primaries, will go towards meeting basic need, while 64 per cent of the mainstream schools will be located in the 50 per cent most deprived communities in the country.

They are particularly likely to create teacher jobs in London, with 46 of these free schools to be located there, while 11 each will be opened in the north-west and south-east and nine each in the East of England and Yorkshire and Humber regions.

Mr Gove commented: "There are many innovators in local communities set on raising standards of education for their children.

"I am delighted to approve so many of their high-quality plans to open a free school. Free schools are extremely popular with parents and are delivering strong discipline and teaching excellence across the country."

The latest wave of free schools

This latest tranche of free schools to be given the green light highlights the diversity of the institutions opening through this programme.

One is the Jane Austen College in Norwich, a secondary school for 1,100 pupils that will specialise in English and focus on cultural literacy and traditional academic subjects.

Meanwhile, Liverpool Institute of the Performing Arts is opening a free primary school that intends to use creative arts to enhance early literacy and numeracy education.

One of the most unorthodox planned free schools in this new cohort is the XP School in Doncaster, a teacher-led proposal drawing on the practices of America's charter schools.

It will use cross-curricular projects, rather than ordinary lessons, to teach classes of no more than 25 pupils, with admission to this school to be by a citywide lottery.

XP's prospective chair of governors Gwyn ap Harri explained to the Guardian: "If you want, for instance, an investigation into the wildlife in your back garden, there are loads and loads of different subjects you can cover within that.

"You can do maths in terms of the size of the garden, how many samples you can find, what percentage that is. Then there's the history of the place, the geography, biology, that sort of thing."

Elsewhere, London will host the Family School, which will cater to the needs of children aged five-to-14 with complex psychological, family and mental health problems.

The National Autism Society is opening free schools in south London and Cheshire East for autistic pupils aged between four and 19, having already been given permission to open a similar school in Reading from September 2013.

Free schools receive mixed response

New Schools Network director Natalie Evans said the free schools movement was being driven by high demand and by teachers themselves, especially in the most disadvantaged areas.

However, National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower and shadow schools minister Kevin Brennan accused the government of ignoring the growing shortage of primary school places and concentrating resources on creating unneeded schools.

Posted by Tim ColmanADNFCR-2164-ID-801591398-ADNFCR
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