Free schools process outlined

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Education Secretary Michael Gove has outlined the process for allowing teachers, charities and parents to set up new schools – Free Schools – in response to parental demand.

Free Schools are independent state schools run by teachers not bureaucrats or politicians and accountable to parents. The Government has already set out plans to give teachers the option to take on greater professional freedoms.

Michael Gove has reallocated £50 million of funding from the Harnessing Technology Grant to create a Standards and Diversity Fund. This will provide capital funding for Free Schools up to 31 March 2011.

He has also written to the New Schools Network to establish a formal relationship and to offer a £500,000 of initial funding to help make sure groups across the country get the support they need to start forming schools.

The New Schools Network will act as the first point of contact for all groups who wish to start schools and will provide them with information as they go through the process and prepare their proposals.

The government is lalso aunching an online guide for groups wanting to set up a school and has produced a 10-page proposal form they will fill in as the first step.

Michael Gove said: "I am inviting groups to complete a proposal form and enter a process to set up new ‘Free Schools’.

"Hundreds of groups, from teachers themselves to charities such as the Sutton Trust, have expressed an interest in starting great new schools. Just like the successful charter schools in the US, supported across the political spectrum, these schools will have the freedom to innovate and respond directly to parents’ needs.

"The new Free Schools will also be incentivised to concentrate on the poorest children by the introduction of this Government’s Pupil Premium which will see schools receiving extra funds for educating children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In this country, too often the poorest children are left with the worst education while richer families can buy their way to quality education via private schools or expensive houses. By allowing new schools we will give all children access to the kind of education only the rich can afford – small schools with small class sizes, great teaching and strong discipline."

Free schools will not have to follow the national curriculum but will need to provide an education that is "broad and balanced", in the same way as new academies will.

Critics fear tfree schools will condemn struggling local schools, and that middle class parents will opt to put their children into new establishments

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said: "Rather than providing opportunities to all parents, it will privilege the few at the expense of the many.

"Despite reassurances from Michael Gove that 'free' schools would not be run for profit, there is the strong possibility under this system that governing bodies could increasingly contract out the running of schools to private companies in return for management fees.

"Adopting such a business model to our schools will amount to the sweeping dismantling of our education system, turning it over to unaccountable, unelected companies."

The government expects the first of the new breed of "free schools" to open in September 2011.