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Planning reforms to support free school opening

30/01/2013 Joanna
Organisations that want to open free schools which could create new teacher jobs will soon find it easier to do so as a result of amendments to planning law.

A total of 80 free schools have opened over the past 18 months, with a further 100 expected to open by the start of the next academic year.

Yet at present, parents, primary and secondary teachers and charities that want to start a free school often face a lengthy process that can last for up to 12 months in order to secure council permission to move into premises that are earmarked for use but that are not already schools.

The government has now, however, introduced measures that will permit free schools to open and operate for up to a year in almost any type of building before they are required to obtain planning permission for this change of use.

It will also become easier to open free schools in a wider range of premises, including former offices and hotels, due to the introduction of a simplified, more streamlined approval process for which councils will only have to carry out only limited assessments.

Education secretary Michael Gove commented: "I want to make it as easy as possible for free school proposers not only to find buildings, but to move into them.

"So I am delighted that we are cutting the red tape that delays free schools from securing a permanent home. Enabling free schools to move into their preferred site more quickly will mean they can concentrate on raising standards and providing parents with an excellent school place for their child."

This announcement has been welcomed by the New Schools Network, which supports groups wishing to set up free schools.

Director Natalie Evans told BBC News that it meant local councillors and planners "who wish to deny parents choice in the education of their children" would no longer be able to use preventative planning legislation to block the opening of new schools.

However, Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, has criticised this move, stating that current planning regulations are in place to ensure sites are suitable for pupils to be taught in.

She accused the government of putting its "obsession" with opening academies and free schools ahead of the safety and wellbeing of the country's schoolchildren and of "demonstrating no respect for state education".

Posted by Tim ColmanADNFCR-2164-ID-801531051-ADNFCR
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