Governance issues for free schools

Rosemary Mann's picture
I would like someone to explain to me precisely how these free schools will work from a governance point of view and would particularly welcome Toby Young's comment on this given that the West London school is likely to be up and running fairly shortly. Most fledgling schools are being set up by temporary governors, along with private organisations such as existing private sector education providers. In local authoriy schools governors are made up of LEA governors, community governors, staff governors and parent governors. My questions are as follows;

1) How are they to be governed when fully set up and are these governors to be elected or nominated- if not what and how? How would delegated authority work. Unless I've missed something in the press I have to say I really do not know.
2) Where are the checks and balances for accountability and good practice within free schools. Head teachers are accountable to their governing bodies within state schools and in turn the governing bodies are accountable to Ofsed and also to parents. Heads also have the benefit of performance review from school improvement partners. There is a lot , in other words, to keep Heads on their toes and looking at continuous improvement models which in turn benefits the children. Until I became a governor almost two years ago, I really had no idea how schools were run or the constant challenges they face with all the internal and external assessment requirements. Now I have a child of school entry age and I feel very pleased that her state school is put through it and no one sits on their laurels, in spite of the mistaken impression given by Gove that the system is full of incompetent teachers who can never be sacked or who can never improve. It is simply very difficult to coast a long in todays environment.

So what is in store for these free schools and what can we expect? Who is to support and challenge them to produce the very best results for our children?
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Gerry Newton's picture
Wed, 09/02/2011 - 18:34

Why don't you just email them? If you were actually interested in the answers rather than this grandstanding, perhaps that might be more effective.

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 10/02/2011 - 08:07

I think you will find the answer in the Academies Act which was passed last summer. They may be called free schools but in legal terms they are academies. The 'sponsoring' trust can appoint the majority of the governing body with minimal elected parent representation and no requirement for other categories of governors. The governors are accountable to the trust but in reality it is the trust that has the power and they should be accountable to the tax payer but are often able to hide behind ' commercial confidentiality ' as the funding agreements that govern the schools are essentially commercial contracts between the Secretary of State and the sponsor. It is interesting to see how some of these larger academy groups are now effectively operating like small local authorities now, keeping their schools on quite a tight leash and 'controlling' them in a way that a local authority would never dare to do!

Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 10/02/2011 - 10:42

The legislation effectively concentrates power into the hands of the sponsoring trust, which will more or less run the school. The governing body are not "governors" at all, but will in practice rubber-stamp what the sponsors decide.

Rosemary Mann's picture
Thu, 10/02/2011 - 20:32

Sorry, grandstanding? Are people now being castigated for posing questions?

Sarah Dobbs's picture
Fri, 11/02/2011 - 05:38

The more I find out, the more I realise that all of this is not just a tragedy for education, but for democracy. What is being advertised as increased power to the community is, in reality, increased centralisation to the state.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 11/02/2011 - 09:54

Andy Burnham warned about giving unprecedented control to the Secretary of State for Education in the debate on the Education Bill:

“Today the Secretary of State is back with an even more audacious request. He is asking Members of the House of Commons to give him more than 50 new powers … It constitutes an unprecedented power grab from pupils, parents, professionals and the public, leaving them without essential safeguards in a free-for-all.… an unseemly rush to reform in which the normal processes of government are simply ditched. There will be no pilots, no evidence and no consultation. No time will be taken to listen to parents and children, consult teachers, and build the broad consensus in the country that should properly underpin any education reform.”
I think we should all be profoundly concerned.

Toby Young's picture
Fri, 11/02/2011 - 11:07

Rosalyn, The various governance arrangements that free schools may put in place can be found here:

On the right hand side you'll see a list of pdfs you can download. Click on the one labelled:
"Free Schools Memorandum and Articles of Association."

Fiona and Francis are, as usual, misinformed – or deliberately misrepresenting the true position for ideological reasons. You seem a little confused, too. Not sure what you mean by "fledgling schools", but "existing private sector education providers" are not allowed to set up free schools. No, the main involvement of "existing private sector education providers" is as "improvement partners" to local authority-run schools – something you appear to approve of, though evidently without quite knowing what you're approving of.

Francis Gilbert's picture
Fri, 11/02/2011 - 11:18

Exactly what are we misinformed about, Toby? Please elaborate!

Rosemary Mann's picture
Fri, 11/02/2011 - 21:29

Hi there, Toby,

Thanks for the response. And for telling me I'm confused, and for pointing out that I don't seem to know much about anything.

Thanks also for the link, which doesn't appear to lead anywhere, instead telling me the page you refer to doesn't exist, may have moved or have been deleted. No wonder people are worried. The information we seek doesn't appear to exist .

No Cuts's picture
Sat, 12/02/2011 - 11:26

For his children & those of other wealthy parents, Toby wants to Free Schools from the impact of the relative poverty his party created through attacks since 79' on progressive taxation and a programme of privatisation that transferred wealth to those already well off enough to benefit through share portfolios, from the billions extracted in profits. Since 79' Tories halved income tax on the 350,000 people earning salaries over £150,000 while doubling VAT. Cuts in public spending to afford these tax breaks will further inequality and massively impact the educational outcomes of children born into families forced to pay the price. Disgracefully, Tories now criticise state education (and the NHS) for not being able to compensate for the impact of the relative poverty the Tories, uncorrected by New Labour, created. Tories are cruelly aware comparator countries are not blighted by the relative poverty they orchestrated. For evidence see Professors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett

Children do not choose whether they are born into privilege, and Toby needs to commit to the educational outcomes of all children, a comprehensive approach, not just his own. Social mobility is just changing places & hides responsibility for Britain now having a gap between rich and poor exactly the same as in Nigeria, much worse than in Jamaica, Ghana or the Ivory Coast and twice as bad as in Sri Lanka or Ethiopia.

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