Do free schools mark the end of the principle of a "free" education?

Francis Gilbert's picture
We've already seen on this site that free schools have the right to ask parents to pay for certain aspects of their child's education. The vital question is: how far do these rights go? And how far will they "push" or "abuse" these rights?

As Helen Flynn has already pointed out on the site previously, Academies (and therefore Free Schools which follow the Academy model) have considerably more rights to charge than maintained schools:

"Under the “Charging” section it says that: Sections 402 (entering for public exams), 450-457 (charges), 459 (information about charges and school hours), 460 (voluntary contributions), 461, 462 (interpretation re: charges) of the Education Act 1996 shall be deemed to apply to the academy.

There are some modifications, the major one being: “the charging and remissions policies required to be determined under section 457, and any amendment thereto, shall require the approval of the Secretary of State”, which would seem to indicate that if the Trust body does want to make changes, it can, but has to get permission from the DfE. Note the power is with the Academy Trust to do this–not the governors–as it with just about anything else to do with academies–all of whom are unelected."

In other words, if given the "go-ahead" by the Education Secretary, the sponsors of school could ask parents to pay fees: the governors of the school would have no say. As I've already pointed out, Free Schools are going to be quite small, most will have fewer than 700 pupils, and therefore quite expensive to run. Quite a few Free Schools are now private schools anyway. You could easily imagine a situation where they will ask parents to pay simply because free schools will need the money to have small class sizes -- a key selling point of many free schools. I certainly have no problem imagining certain people running free schools demanding that parents pay to keep the school well-resourced. This may well happen by the back door at first, as it does at the moment, with "voluntary contributions" being demanded by schools -- as happens at the moment in many schools. But the pressure to pay these "voluntary contributions" in free schools will be all the more intense because they have emerged in such "embattled" circumstances. Plus the sponsors of the free school always has the option of saying to parents, if you don't pay we'll seek permission from the Education Secretary to make the fees compulsory. I suspect a great deal of covert pressure will be put on parents in these schools to "cough up" -- otherwise they won't be part of the "in-crowd".

Do Free Schools and Academies mark the end of the principle of a "free education"? Well, I suspect that Gove has a desire to return to the old "Direct Grant" system of education that happened in the 1950s and 1960s, when private schools were partially funded by the taxpayer. The principle of a "free education" seems to be quietly and covertly pushed out of the door and into the gutter.
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