Gove announces opening of 55 new free schools
By Mark Smulian | 3 September 2012
Fifty-five free schools are opening in England this month as the academic year starts, Education Secretary Michael Gove has revealed.
This will bring the total to 79 so far, with a further 114 approved to open next year or later.
Free schools are financed by the government and inspected by Ofsted, but are not controlled by local councils.
The Department for Education said the bulk of the schools were in deprived areas with a shortage of school places. However, shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg and teaching unions accused the government of wasting public money by supporting free schools in areas of little need.
The head teacher of one new free school – School 21 in Newham, east London – will be Peter Hyman, who was a speechwriter to Tony Blair when he was prime minister.
Other schools include a specialist music primary in Bradford and one where all pupils will learn Mandarin in Maidstone.
Gove said the schools ‘have been set up by idealistic people who are determined to give parents the kind of choice that only the rich can currently afford’.
He said existing free schools had filled, or almost filled, all their places for this year and many had large waiting lists.
‘The first 24 free schools are enormously popular and I expect this second wave to be equally successful,’ he added.
The National Association of Schoolmasters/Union of Women Teachers said the funding of free schools reduced the money available for other schools.
General secretary Chris Keates said that the government’s ‘flawed policy’ was leading to money being ‘poured into a handful of freeschools to the detriment of existing schools and the children and young people who attend them’.
She added: ‘At a time when the education budget has been dramatically cut, funding for freeschools comes from top slicing the limited money available for other schools and their pupils.’
The National Union of Teachers also criticised the government’s vision as ‘increasingly unfair and chaotic’.
General secretary Christine Blower said that allowing free schools to open irrespective of local need was ‘not a sensible approach to education provision’.
She added: ‘To ensure that there are sufficient pupil places, there obviously needs to be properly co-ordinated planning and oversight, which is best done by the local authority.
‘The education secretary claims that allowing a few parents access to huge amounts of taxpayers’ money to set up schools of their choice affords them the same privileges as those parents who choose private education for their children. This simply mirrors the exclusive nature of fee-paying schools. They won’t be available to all and they will take resources which should be directed into state education.’