Tonight Programme on Free Schools

Sarah's picture
by Sarah
I would be interested in views from those who watched this evening's Tonight programme about a group of parents growing their own school from the comfort of their armchairs.

As an opponent of the policy I have to admit to a rare moment of pleasure when one of the proposers realised that in complying with a fair admissions policy her own children would not get places.

To me that threw the whole thing wide open - confirming that this is just a means by which sharp elbowed parents get something they 'want' regardless of the impact on all children in the area.
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Melissa Benn's picture
Fri, 11/03/2011 - 08:44

Sorry to ruin your moment of pleasure Sarah but judging from this morning's TES the government will now guarantee Free School founders a place for their own child/children. I can imagine the deluge of texts/e-mails around the country as parents seek to establish that they ARE a founder of a school..' Now listen, I was there, holding the petition when we were getting the signatures to establish an interest...' ' I am SURE I was at that first meeting...' Etc etc. Expect a few new regulations to follow, establishing who or what constitutes the Founding Body of a Free School.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 11/03/2011 - 11:11

The whole programme could have been condensed into a five minute news item. The programme was padded out with pictures of people walking down corridors, climbing stairs, eating, getting children ready for school and so on. In one episode children were shown devising a new school uniform using brightly-coloured material – interesting for the participants but not much use since state school uniforms must be inexpensive and easily available (perhaps the school’s proposers weren’t aware of this).

The programme boiled down to this: a small group of enthusiastic amateurs and one teacher (cue upbeat music) decide to set up a school. Guidance offered via the DfE helps them through the application process. Local Authority representative (cue plodding music) worries that educational provision in the area is now in disarray. At some future date (unknown) there might, or might not, be a school (facilities unknown) for 750 pupils offering a curriculum which is narrower (but allegedly deeper) than that provided by an existing school. The free school proposers have their architectural plans (financed by unknown). These show site renovation and new buildings (cost unknown).

Meanwhile in the same area the existing school is desperate for a fraction of the money which would be needed for the provision of the new school.

And people wonder by free schools are controversial.

Sarah's picture
Fri, 11/03/2011 - 16:55

I am sickened but not surprised. So Gove thinks one should reward these parents for their efforts (to serve the interests of their own children). What about all the hardworking staff in schools who currently support the needs of pupils, what about all the other parents who don't have the means or capacity to set up a school? Don't their children deserve fair access?

Having said that, I had already heard that Gove was planning to water down the admissions code to allow the children of staff to have priority (what about other working mothers who would like a place at a popular school). The Code will be a charter for cronyism, cherry picking and rule-bending - and impossible to police.

So much for 'fair access'. I see the Schools Adjudicator has now gone - jumped or pushed? I'll let others be the judge. This policy is now completely beyond a joke.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Fri, 11/03/2011 - 17:10

An interesting development here in York has been that the DfE has turned down a proposal for a free school, partly on the grounds of the 'quality of the existing provision'

Although,obviously I welcome the decision I wonder how far in other parts of the country the quality of existing schools has even been considered as a factor.

I also question whether the fact York is Lib Dem controlled might be a factor. Tory councils would,of course welcome free schools and the DfE won't care about any opposition from Labour (or independent) councils but could refusal to sanction a free school in a Lib Dem council area be a political decision?

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 11/03/2011 - 19:11

For those that are interested in the York free school bid that was turned down, the full story is here

Sarah's picture
Fri, 11/03/2011 - 18:01

Adrian - the answer to your question is, nobody knows whether it's a political decision. And that's because the decision making about free schools is so cloaked in mystery. Any attempt at getting greater transparency is blocked by central government.

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Fri, 11/03/2011 - 19:37

I had precisely eleven people text me to alert me to the show. I watched it. The whole thing made me feel a bit ill, and after seeing the TES article this morning, I feel angry. If they create what the parents of FS wanted in the first place- a nice 'just like us' school, and remove the possibility of seeking adjudication, while at the same time gutting LA budgets for local schools - well, it just makes me more nauseated - and more angry. I just need to learn what to do with this new bit of energy.

Laura Brown's picture
Sat, 12/03/2011 - 08:48

When I watched the programme, I couldn't help feeling "what gives them the right", those 6 self-appointed parents, to decide on admissions policies, about curriculum, about school site etc? I completely support parents getting involved in their local schools but it seems that the power balance is all wrong when a small group of parents are making all the choices. The fact that they may now be able to guarantee getting their children into the school, while shocking (and definitely leading to madness as described by Melissa) may at least make them act in a less self-interested way about the admissions policy. Maybe? Perhaps this will encourage Jon de Maria to embrace Falconbrook's inclusion in the Bolingbroke Academy if he can guarantee his son's place there?

And, if another few parents in the area want a new school too but disagree with the way the existing group are doing it, what do they do? There is no obligation at all for the existing group to let them into the inner circle (especially now guaranteed places for 'kids of inner circle' are on offer). Start a rival campaign to set up a school along the lines they think are right?

Surely some kind of relatively impartial body setting up new schools with representations from all potentially interested parties makes more sense than concentrating the power in the hands of whoever happens to shout first and loudest?

Sassy Puff's picture
Sat, 12/03/2011 - 09:25

I agree with the previous comments, especially what Janet had to say. It was an incredibly lightweight programme, with a great deal of padding. As someone who has previously studied documentary film making, I thought that there were some glaring omissions on the part of the programme makers.
Firstly, why were none of the free schoolers asked exactly why they felt the existing schools in the area weren't good enough and secondly, I would have expected to see a bit more about the existing schools; exam results, intake, OFSTED reports, how many applicants per place etc.
My boyfriend was watching the programme with me and apart from a desire for a 'just like us' school, we were both clueless as to exactly what the motivation behind the free school was.
I thought the programme was both a very poor effort and a wasted opportunity.

Urban Head's picture
Sat, 12/03/2011 - 10:15

The rumour is that even the SOS has gone off Free Schools after his recent Free Schools Conference. I gather he was rather alarmed by the large number of religious groups stating they would not be teaching evolution. He is also alarmed at the capital costs

Fiona Millar's picture
Sat, 12/03/2011 - 18:01

He is right to be alarmed by the capital costs and we should be asking why any money is being given to these projects when the James Review not yet reported on how schools that have lost out on BSF will receive capital funding in the future.

Sarah's picture
Sat, 12/03/2011 - 18:31

I think the James Review is expected now at the end of this month. The most likely outcome will be that local authority maintained schools will get very little, local authorities will get maintenance funding only and the big money will be centrally controlled and only available to Academies and Free Schools. It's the next step in the big financial bribe to persuade more schools to convert.

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