How effective is the DfE vetting system of Free School Proposers?

Allan Beavis's picture
The British Centre for Science Education wrote to Michael Gove to voice their concerns that fundamentalist churches are making proposals to set up free schools. They fear that these applicants will then pursue an educational agenda across the curriculum to "promote a liberal interpretation of the bible" according to the Guardian.

Although Michael Gove has responded by saying that he is "crystal clear that teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact", one school with a "distinctive Christian ethos that permeates every aspect of school life" will open in September.

Since free schools can be set up by virtually anyone - parents, teachers, charities, businesses - is it not "crystal clear" that the individuals or organizations applying to set up free schools will be acting either out of vested self interest or exploiting loopholes in the system that will allow them to establish, at the taxpayer's expense, schools in which teaching of the curriculum will be subverted to pushing the agenda their institutions seeks to promote?

Although the government is at pains to stress they will turn down applications if there are "concerns about the people behind the project", I wonder how the DfE will be able to diligently vet them all, especially now that, with the BCSE's concern in the public domain, many of them will take great care to conceal their true motives, creationist or otherwise?

Much as free schools founders argue that their schools will be "inclusive", I fear that this is further evidence that they are the opposite and that exclusion, discrimination and even indoctrination is being encouraged.
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Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 22/03/2011 - 17:01

This is terrifying. You only have to log onto the website for a new proposed Free School, Everyday Champions to see the fundamentalist ethos at work:

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 22/03/2011 - 17:02

This is terrifying. You only have to log onto the website for a new proposed Free School, Everyday Champions Academy, to see the fundamentalist ethos at work:

Francis Gilbert's picture
Tue, 22/03/2011 - 17:07

The Creationists will no doubt be making arguments very similar to the ones that Steiner schools make. Remember Steiner schools say that they don't teach "anthroposophy" -- the utterly bizarre mystical philosophy of Rudolph Steiner who founded the schools -- but a close examination of these schools reveals that anthroposophy "informs" every facet of their curriculum, despite the fact that it's rarely referred to. Creationist thought will "inform" and suffuse every facet of these schools in the choices they make; for example, there will no doubt be no liberal-minded discussion of homosexuality in such schools. This is how they will get funding: they will say that Creationism won't be taught as part of science.

Stephen Smith's picture
Tue, 22/03/2011 - 20:56

I've visited a Steiner School in the past - a special school. I found it quite a bizarre experience. First waiting in the Library when I arrived (every book was either by, or about Rudolf Steiner), and later sharing a meal entirely home-grown at the school - including the meat, which was slaughtered on site. I was slightly spooked that the woman holding hands with me as we gave thanks for the meal turned out not only to have gone to the same school as me, but also have to gone to school with my Mother - a mere coincidence I hope.

The afternoon lessons consisted of walking from point to point of a pentangle whilst reciting poetry, followed by literacy - which consisted of placing logs in a wheel barrow, and then sawing them into smaller pieces.

Anthroposophy was not mentioned - but Eurythmy certainly was.

Much as I found it utterly bizarre, I have to admit that I could easily understand why someone might choose to send a child to a school with this philosophy. In the same way that I respect the principles of A. S Neill's Summerhill school - but wouldn't want my child to go there - I have a grudging respect for that Steiner School.

I know I'm playing Devil's advocate to an extent - but wouldn't it be it nice if we had a way of allowing freedom of choice to extend to those who made eccentric choices too ?

I'm just throwing this in - My thoughts do not necessarily represent a fully formed logical argument on this occasion !

Please note that I haven't mentioned the name of this school - I've visited another rather better known school founded on Steiner principles and it was rather excellent actually - this one wasn't that school.

Mark Edon's picture
Wed, 23/03/2011 - 06:57

Cough - "literal" not "liberal" - makes a bit of a difference!


Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 23/03/2011 - 11:49

Mark - thank you! Those pesky keyboards!

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 23/03/2011 - 13:27

Stephen -

I suppose it all depends on how you define "eccentric". My local secondary school has an Arts and Media Specialism and there will be proposers of free schools who consider such a “progressive” approach to education unconventional, particularly if their motives to set up their school are attuned to Michael Gove’s favouring of a “traditional” academic curriculum heavy on History and Greek.

I’m all for more choice but if free schools are being set up with the purpose of manipulating the curriculum to fit in with the founders’ private agenda on what education ought to be about, then this has a profound effect on successive generations of people and how they view and contribute to the world. Gove and free school defenders will argue that emphasising the teaching of "traditional" subjects is the key to future success. I would give equal emphasis to technology, the arts, business since these reflect the changing world we live in and it would be bizarre if vocational subjects are not taught since these have relevance to children’s future life and work skills.

Like you, I can understand why a great many people would want to send their children to a free school if their philosophy is attuned with theirs but what if the philosophy is so “eccentric” that there is too little demand or too much opposition? Moreover, it may well not serve the best needs of its community and even if it did, we have to remain sceptical about the motives of free school applicants. I suspect that behind their claim that they “want to a better school in the neighbourhood” is a desire to impose their philosophy on a whole generation of children and that philosophy may well not be in the best interests of the moral, social and intellectual development of the children under their care. Over and above all if that “philosophy” is self serving and dismissive of the contributions of a diverse range of people, cultures and heritages.

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