The New Schools Network versus the Local Schools Network on Channel 4 News: who won?

Francis Gilbert's picture


This is a heated debate about Free Schools that I had with Rachel Wolf from the New Schools Network -- the quango that helps free school applications -- this Monday. She questioned me over my claim that a third of applications for free schools had been from creationist groups, saying my facts were wrong. They were; my apologies for a poor memory. I think it was the heat of the moment; I was quite nervous!

Nevertheless, the British Humanist Society suggest the situation is pretty bad. This is from Hansard:

"The Department for Education (DfE) has begun to publish the names of applications to run free schools and, a high proportion of those have come from faith groups. In a recent tranche, seven of the ten 'Free School' applications have religious or 'spiritual' connections. Among the approved applications are a school which teaches 'consciousness-based education' including 'transcendental meditation', an Islamic boys' school, and a school run by a group set up by an 'Ordained Minister of the Free Church'. Whilst the Department of Education has stated that the Education Secretary, Rt Hon Michael Gove, is ‘crystal clear’ that the ‘teaching creationism is at odds with scientific fact’ they have not demonstrated how they will exclude creationist groups effectively from establishing schools [3] . The Secretary of State has stated as recently as January this year that applications from creationist groups to run free schools would be considered."

The British Centre for Science Education has more concerns, while this article in the TES indicates that the fundamentalist group EveryDay Champions are very keen to set up a free school and have creationism on the Science curriculum.

While my facts were a little shaky at times, the key points are valid; free schools will drain resources from other schools, the agenda is being hijacked by faith and special interest groups, standards of teaching will be poor, and the whole thing is very unfair.
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Mark Luscombe's picture
Wed, 07/09/2011 - 18:45

She came over as more media savvy, but then so she should she's got half a million quid from the government to learn and spout the line. Whereas you do a proper job and that was the key point. You came over as a genuine and emphasised your involvement in the classroom. Nice work chucking in the line about creationists. Got her on the back foot and undermined the cliches she'd trotted out before.I doubt either of you changed anyone's mind so no one won. But in my view bloke who does the job wins over media savvy quango wonk any day.

Jake's picture
Thu, 08/09/2011 - 08:23

Francis - your comments on faith schools and creationists were a cheap shot. The fact is that faith schools will not be approved by the DfE unless they can clearly demonstrate that their admissions policy reaches out to a broader community base. This is from the DfE website: "The published oversubscription criteria must allow for 50 per cent of places to be allocated to children without reference to faith if the school is oversubscribed. This is to ensure that such schools not only add additional faith places but also add places for the broader local community." One might even say this statement encourages integration and therefore eventual tolerance and understanding on both a race and faith basis, which I would have though is a good thing given the divided society we live in today?

I too would abhor the idea of a creationist free school but until one is actually apporved by the DfE it might be more responsible to be less sensational on national TV or indeed anywhere else with such scaremongering. The fact is that the DfE will not approve a creationist school for very obvious reasons. None have been approved to date and none will be in the future.

josh's picture
Thu, 08/09/2011 - 09:27

Hello Francis. You're right to be suspicious about the motives of people wanting to set up free schools and for doubting what governments claim. For the past 7 years, parents and the American public have been reassured about many things to do with the probity of Charter Schools. Very few of them turned out to be true. What is true is that the government, big business and philanthropic agenda in the creation of school reform is different than what the public expect when all they want is the best for the kids.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 08/09/2011 - 10:32

The submission by the EveryDay Champions Church to establish a free school in Newark has passed the first stage of the application process. Pastor Gareth Morgan, the church leader behind the bid, told The TES, "Creationism will be taught as the belief of the leadership of the school. It will not be taught exclusively in the sciences, for example. At the same time, evolution will be taught as a theory."

Mr Gove has said creationism must not be taught in Science, but the school is getting round this by saying it will be "taught" in other areas of the curriculum. Note the word "taught" - this is not the same as "discussed". I see no reason why creationism should not be discussed in science, RE or in other subjects. However, it should not be taught as a valid scientific theory - Mr Gove is quite right about this.

Jake's picture
Thu, 08/09/2011 - 10:54

You are falling into exactly the same trap as Francis has. If Pastor Morgan signs a funding agreement you will have a point. But until that happens you are making unhelpful assumptions. Rest assured that Pastor Morgan will not get his free school and nor will any other free school peddling a creationist ethos.

josh's picture
Thu, 08/09/2011 - 11:11

Mr Gove says a lot of things and performs a U-Turn when forced, so it would be best to always question the motives of politicians, corporations and philanthropists when they get their hands on reforming publicly funded services. Make assumptions about what they are not telling you or telling you in a less than transparent way. In the States, Charter schools are not set up after proper and full consultations. They are handed to communities on a plate, often when they are not wanted.

Jake's picture
Thu, 08/09/2011 - 11:23

Free schools here are predicated on local demand - they are not handed to communities that do want them. On U-turns, are you seriously suggesting that having said 'no' to creationist free schools to date, Gove will at some stage in the future wave through any or all such schools that apply?

Jake's picture
Thu, 08/09/2011 - 11:24

sorry, that should have read ' NOT want them'.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 08/09/2011 - 11:31

Ms Wolf’s responses appeared well-rehearsed. She said the government should be funding choice and that this was working in New York. Her answer ignores OECD research that evidence about the effects of user choice on educational outcomes is mixed. Her answer also overlooked the enormous controversy surrounding charter schools in the USA.

Ms Wolf also said there was a large number of underperforming schools in England. In 2010 there were only 216 secondary schools which did not achieve the benchmark of 35% GCSEs A*-C. That’s 216 out of 4,149. And the Education Endowment Foundation said it was a mistake to assume that below-floor schools were poor – it found many of them were performing well in difficult circumstances.

Francis made the point (which is supported by evidence) that most schools were doing a good job and standards had improved. There was, therefore, no need for free schools. Ms Wolf turned this remark to make it sound insulting to parents. She said, “Rather than saying to parents, ‘If you are unhappy with your local state provision, it’s because you’re too ignorant to know that it’s actually really good.’ I think you should be giving parents options.” That wasn’t what Francis was saying – he said the Government should be praising the achievements of existing state schools.

Ms Wolf said it was a remarkable achievement to set up 24 schools in only a year. This ignores the fact that five were existing independent schools and some, such as the Nishkam Primary School in Birmingham, had been working on their plans for years.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 08/09/2011 - 11:46

It will be too late to object to the school once the funding agreement has been signed. On August 13 2011 the EveryDay Champions Church issued a statement on its website saying it had “progressed” to the interview stage. The interview would take place the following week. This means the interview must have taken place and the application will be taken further. The DfE must be seriously considering the Church’s application or the Church would have issued a statement saying they had failed the interview.

The Church says it will not teach creationism of intelligent design in science. However, that does not preclude teaching it elsewhere as the Pastor said.

Sarah's picture
Thu, 08/09/2011 - 17:51

Free Schools are not predicated on a robust assessment of demand - and since when did we use taxpayer's money to meet parents' demands (as opposed to educational need). This is the language of the market which seeks to treat education as a commodity rather than a social and public good.

No meaningful consultation is conducted with local communities - and I don't mean getting a small group of parents to say that they think an extra school will be a jolly good thing. In many cases they are being proposed in areas where there are significant surplus places - how can this possibly reflect the best use of scarce resources?

The applications are shrouded with secrecy - in some cases the proposers will not even give their true identities and rely on anonymous email addresses. Gove will not respond propertly to FOI requests seeking information about applications, how decisions are being made and what it is costing us. Their defence for refusal is laughable - worried about commercial sensitivity indeed - local authorities have no such luxury when they are establishing schools.

The whole thing stinks to high heaven - including Rachel Wolf's involvement.

Jake's picture
Thu, 08/09/2011 - 18:44

Do you really think that free schools are approved on the basis of a 'small group of parents' thinking it would be a 'jolly good thing'? If the parent group cannot demonstrate robust demand for say a 4FE secondary with a NOR of 600 pupils they will not get approved. And the academies bill clause 10.1 calls for consultation. Where is your evidence for your statement that 'in many cases they are being proposed in areas where there are significant surplus places'? I believe a capex figure of £125 million has been given by Gove for the first 24 free schools - at £5 million avg per free school that is cheap. The process to apply for a free school could not be more crystal clear than that posted on both the DfE and NSN websites. A lot of your gripes are unfounded.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 08:26

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism highlights the difficulties in getting information about proposed free schools. It says:

“Under the Freedom of Information Act, the public and the media are allowed to request information from any government body, but free schools, it seems do not become public bodies until they open next week. This has meant parents, and even the media, have been unable to get hold of certain documents relating to the new free schools.”

If the information is eventually released after a free school has opened, it is then too late for objections to be made.

The process may be “crystal clear”, laying down the procedures which free school proposers must follow, but the information given by proposers following the set process is not. It is hidden, as is the true cost of these free schools. It is quite legitimate to wonder why this should be so.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 08:35

The Academies Act may require schools to consult before converting but this consultation can be limited. An announcement on a school website would suffice. DfE guidance says:

"All schools are required to carry out a consultation but it is up to them to decide whom and how to consult. There is no specified length of time for the consultation and schools have flexibility in how it is conducted."

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 08/09/2011 - 17:51

Ok here is my assessment of Francis' key points;

"free schools will drain resources from other schools" - if you don't want go to the 'other schools' then they are a drain on the resources of another school, or potential school, which could offer an alternative.

"the agenda is being hijacked by faith and special interest groups" - it's a right of people to raise their children in accordance with their religious/spiritual beliefs. We have to accomodate these even if we have some trouble accepting these ourselves as real/truthful. I would have thought that various measures of expected behaviour and a certain amount of categorisation of knowledge would help here. Creationism as part of a faith based theological teaching is different from including that same idea in a science lesson. And what difference does the belief make to behaviour? There should be some abolute standards we can judge against. Or are actually in favour of state sponsored enforced atheism?

"standards of teaching will be poor" - ok let's wait and see. I can't see free schools using poor non qualified staff who achieve bad teaching.

"the whole thing is very unfair" - I think it's less unfair than the current set up where wealth buys private education or the proxy of property in the best catchments.

, standards of teaching will be poor, and the whole thing is very unfair.

Sarah's picture
Thu, 08/09/2011 - 17:58

It is simply a fact that a half empty school is a poor use of resources - allowing a school to open in an area where there is no need for additional places is indefensible.

Whilst it is a right for people to raise children in accordance with their religious beliefs it is not a right that the state should provide school places which promote a particular faith - in law all the state has to do is have regard to parents wishes on this matter.

With regard to your argument about fairness - it is impossible to create an educational system which is absolutely fair - unless you count random allocation which most parents hate and the government doesn't support. You seem to think that the free school system is a means of avoiding the catchment issue - but of course free schools have catchments too and if popular will simply reinforce the current situation where wealthy parents can move into property nearby so there is a failure in your logic here.

Jake's picture
Thu, 08/09/2011 - 18:52

If a school is half empty perhaps the head and SLT should ask themselves why parents dont want to send their children to that school?

The state having regard to parental wishes is pretty what the free school policy seeks to address - faith based or otherwise.

A distance based admissions policy is not the only admissions option available to schools - to ensure an inclusive pupil intake other policies can used.

Not everything is quite as black & white as you would make it out to be.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 07:57

This is from the Free Schools application form (downloadable from the DfE website):

"If your application meets the minimum criteria and is assessed as one of the strongest applications against both the minimum and comparative criteria we will invite you to interview in the first two weeks of August (between 1st – 12th August)."

The application from the EveryDayChampions Church has been selected for interview. It is, therefore, considered by the DfE to be "one of the strongest applications against both the minimum and comparative criteria." I don't think it's necessary to wait and see whether this DfE signs the funding agreement before saying that this is proof that the DfE will approve applications from groups promoting creationism. As I said above, it will be too late then to object.

Shane Rae's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 11:20

For me it still boils down to the basic premise of why response to an 'under-performing' school should be to build another one close by-let parents gamble with their children's future by sending them to this new, untested type of school or let their children flounder in the original school instead of bolstering that school with additional funding and support.

Just more flim-flammery from Wolfe here, some Gove-esque 'look into my eyes, don't look away, look into my eyes'. No matter how many times the tell us this ridiculous idea is a good one-it simply won't make it true.

botzarelli's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 12:24

"why response to an ‘under-performing’ school should be to build another one close by-let parents gamble with their children’s future by sending them to this new, untested type of school or let their children flounder in the original school instead of bolstering that school with additional funding and support."

Weak schools don't become weak overnight. Whatever you think about the current government, the previous one pumped a lot of money into schools and most of its MPs represented more deprived areas. Schools that after 13 years of that are still experiencing drastically falling rolls and overcapacity while seeing neighbouring schools oversubscribed or a lot of local parents going private or sending their children to schools in other council areas must have something much more fundamentally wrong with them than could be fixed up with "additional funding and support".

In those circumstances, if the approach of the traditional apparently joined up state system has not been to respond to these pressures (eg by expanding the successful schools, shutting down failing schools rather than letting them fester with ever more desparate and costly reinventions and investment like The Ridings School, or some other measure available) why should parents just have to put up with platitudes about "invest more"? Why shouldn't they be able to take action that their local authorities were unwilling to take to provide their children with an adequate education?

Shane Rae's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 13:00

I agree with some of what you are saying. However ' the previous one pumped a lot of money into schools' statement; really? Did they pump the amount of money into an underperforming school that it would take to resource and staff an entirely new school? The numbers don't add up.

If a new (free) school is the solution, why is the solution not offered to every child?

As for 'Why shouldn’t they be able to take action that their local authorities were unwilling to take to provide their children with an adequate education?'- Gove has already stripped LAs of any ability to take drastic action. So what is the result? Some children will go merrily off to a new well-funded school, whilst the rest of the children remain in an under-performing, under-funded school with reduced support from their LA? It's divisive, shortsighted and embarrassingly naive.

Jake's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 13:25

The answer in part is alluded to in the article - if contractors or consultants can see the capital budgets allocated per school then there would be no element of subsequent competition by way of tendering for the works. If you know a budget of £1 million has been alloacted to the project you are tendering against, as a contractor you are unlikely to bid below that figure. Its common sense and protecting best use of taxpayers money. The dept should be commended for this prudent and commercial approach.

Jake's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 13:32

Sadly the link you put up relates to converter schools not free schools, which needless to say are different things. I am guessing that all free school consultation has been more than adequate to date or else the more zealous left wing opposition would by now have launched myriad formal objections. The fact is they have not because they have had no opportunity afforded by way of inadequate consultation.

Jake's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 13:42

Revenue funding per pupil is the same in a free school as it is in any other state school - the money follows the pupil. So to say kids are under-funded by comparison is incorrect. They are funded equally.

Free schools inject choice into the system and help address the chronic need for extra school places in the country. There is nothing divisive or short sighted about the policy. In fact the opposite is true - they will help drive social mobility, close the achievement gap and help solve the long term shortage of places, all at a time of national austerity.

Jake's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 14:02

Where bureaucrats are concerned I'd go with the cock up rather than conspiracy theory which is maybe how a creationist ethos got through to the interview stage. I really can't see Gove signing a funding agreement with Pastor Morgan can you? Your logic that the 'church would have issued a statement saying they had failed the interview' doesnt make sense. Surely if they did know and had passed they would have by now issued a statement sayng they were successful?? The reality is that the dept has not yet confirmed which groups have passed or failed the interview - no groups know for sure their status to date from this current batch.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 15:25

Jake - in reply to your post above about the link to the DfE guidance re academy conversion, I was responding to your point:

"And the academies bill clause 10.1 calls for consultation."

As this sentence had the word "academies" in it, I thought that was what you were referring to, hence my reply was about academy conversion consultation not free school consultation.

You say the free school consultation must have been "more than adequate" or else the "zealous left-wing opposition" would have opposed the schemes. Unfortunately, as has been mentioned many times on this site, the details have been kept secret by the DfE who has not even responded to Freedom of Information requests. I'm afraid I don't share your trust that the consultation must have been "more than adequate". If it had been then I see no reason to keep it secret. The government boasts "transparency" but in this case it is very opaque.

Jake's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 15:29

Absolute tosh. There are some well known left leaning legal chambers who have been watching the free school policy like hawks. Had they been able to put a spoke in the wheels they would have launched a legal challenge by now. The fact is they have had no basis to enable them to do so.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 15:38

Freedom of Information requests have been refused constantly - no one can set up a challenge unless they have evidence, and that evidence is refused. And as for the "well known left leaning legal chambers" scrutinising the free school process, I should be grateful if you could provide a link to your evidence. It is insufficient to dismiss opinions with phrases like "Absolute tosh".

Shane Rae's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 15:33

Jake-'Revenue funding per pupil is the same in a free school as it is in any other state school – the money follows the pupil. So to say kids are under-funded by comparison is incorrect. They are funded equally.'

You are referring to funding AFTER a brand new school has been set up. I was referring to the massive startup budget for each of these schools.

Where I live only 50% of primary school places (across about 10 local schools) are filled. But there is nothing preventing a Free School from opening here.

Also, sincerely asking, how will Free Schools 'drive social mobility' or 'close the achievement gap'? By 'social mobility' do you mean that better off children will be able to leave their poorer peers behind and that the same children will not be held back by those from deprived backgrounds that Gove has identified as needing greating funding and support (Pupil Premium)?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 15:41

And it must be remembered that local authorities, like the City of Leicester, where there are no academies, are being top-sliced to pay for academies in other parts of the country. The City of Leicester is losing £900,000. The shortfall in funding will impact on the services that the city provides.

Shane - you are right to be concerned about the effect on social mobility. The OECD, as I keep saying constantly, warns that the free school and academy policy will need careful monitoring if it is not to impact negatively on already disadvantaged pupils.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 15:34

Rick Ayers, professor of teacher education at San Francisco University and his brother William Ayers, a senior university scholar at Illinois University in Chicago, wrote an impassioned article in today's Times Educational Supplement which warns about free schools:

"Education is under a serious and sustained attack. The view that the market is the wisest teacher, and the pursuit of wealth and unfettered competition is the path to the good life, has moved from the economic sphere to all walks of life. In an application of Orwellian double-speak, these privatisation efforts are recast as "free schools" - a cynical term that would make AS Neill of Summerhill and Ella Baker of the Mississippi Freedom Schools turn in their graves."

"This fetishisation of market forces suggests that a single measure, the standardised test, is wholly adequate to determine if a student has learned or developed well"

"The proponents of market competition have pushed their ideology on to the agenda by force of wealth and power, not through evidence or argument. Indeed, study after study has shown that test prep factories, school turn-around and reconstitution, "charters" in the US and, no doubt, the new "free schools" in Britain, fail to push the needle at all in outcomes, even as they measure them."

Jake's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 15:51

The capital cost of a free school is and will contune to be significantly cheaper than under BSF or the academy programme.

If there are 50% surplus places across 10 primary schools then I have no idea why anyone would want to go to all the effort to start a new school? Maybe they would and if they could show genuine demand then good luck to them.

By giving poor kids access to new schools based on high academic standards these same kids will then be able to compete with their better off peers - I'm thinking of the Mossbourne model here where several pupils now go to Oxbridge each year. Such has been the parental demand for that model that I believe Mossbourne is looking at a second school opening through the free school policy to meet the extra local demand. Hopefully in time, and if they want to, these kids will grow up to be the doctors, politicians and judges of tomorrow so that not all such positions in elite society will come from the public school fields of England. There has been no evidence that the comprehensive school model has achieved this to any great effect. So its time to change the way we do things.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 16:30

The Sutton Trust in December 2010 found that when comprehensive school pupils get to university they tend to achieve higher degrees than pupils with similar qualifications from independent or grammar schools. Comprehensive schools must be doing something which prepares students better for university than the other types of school. Unfortunately, evidence such as this tends to be ignored by those determined to rubbish comprehensive education.

Jake's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 16:38

That was not the point I was making. It has been well documented that pupils from a FSM profile attending Oxbridge are insignificant by number compared to those attending from private schools. Until disadvanated pupils gain greater and more frequent access to the quads of Oxbridge the ruling elite will not change.

Shane Rae's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 16:04

Jake- 'The capital cost of a free school is and will contune to be significantly cheaper than under BSF or the academy programme.'

This in no way addresses how plowing money into a new school, where there is already a school, would result in a better situation than diverting the same funds to the existing school.

BSF funded facilities, not resourcing.

What 'high academic standards' are you referring to?

Are you saying your expectations are that where Free Schools are opened they will be largely populated by 'poor kids'? You further say that those attending a Free School will somehow usurp those attending the like of Harrow and Eton, leaving them wishing they had attended a Free School instead?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 16:58

I don't think there are many pupils on free school meals in private schools. There aren't that many in grammar schools, either.

However, I agree that more state school pupils should be going to the best universities, but this is often lack of careers guidance, or lack of confidence in pupils. And there are other universities besides Oxbridge.

Jake's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 16:58

One of us is getting confused here - I previously mentioned revenue streams and you said that was not relevant to your point. So I then addressed capex and now you say that is not relevant either. If you are talking about 'resources' then I think you mean revenue funding which I have already commented upon? But I am not sure what your point actually is on school funding?

I am referring to the high academic standards achieved at the likes of Mossbourne where children from disadvantaged backgrounds are now been given a real chance to break into the elite colleges of Oxbridge and the like every year.

Free schools will be populated by all sorts of kids depending on where the demand is. Many of them will be from FSM, BEM and ESL backgrounds. I didnt say 'usurp' - my point was they will be on an equal footing to compete with the public school students. Good as the WLFS and its Latin lessons will be, its purpose needless to say is not to attract pupils from Harrow or Eton - the very opposite in fact. And there will be different types of free schools of course. Not every child aspires to be the next George Osborne or Boris Johnson.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 17:09

Jake - I fully agree with your statement, "Not every child aspires to be the next George Osborne or Boris Johnson." Perhaps state school pupils have got more sense than to want to join the Bullingdon bullies.

As far as WLFS is concerned, unlike the other free schools, this particular one is trying to ape Eton and Harrow with its uniform coming from the same provider as those establishments, and its pretentious use of the words Michaelmas, Lent and Trinity for what most schools, private as well as state-funded ones, call the Autumn/Winter, Spring and Summer Terms. It's becoming a parody of a private school c 1930. And their chairman of governors has already written about sending those who disagree with him into "dunce's corner".

Jake's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 17:21

I didnt mean FSM pupils in public schools or grammars! Last year Oxbridge admitted more applicants from a single independent school – Westminster – than from the entire population of children eligible for FSMs. And a lack of confidence was what an earlier debate on this site was all about - character building and the like.

O. Spencer's picture
Fri, 09/09/2011 - 20:23

Such inverse snobbery on display. Imagine the outcry if someone said that they didn't want their darling son/daughter to aspire to be the next gang member/teenage mother. You would never hear the end of it..

Has criticism of free schools really stooped to mocking the alleged "pretentious" use of Michaelmas, Lent and Trinity instead of Autumn/Winter, Spring and Summer..

It's quite insulting to refer to a school as a "parody" of an imagined past private school. Considering the hours put in by those associated with WLFS it's quite disgusting to demean their efforts in such a blatant sabre-rattling, class hatred inducing manner.

Unfortunately, such comments will be passed over and even defended here because opponents of academies and free schools like to simplistically paint the debate as one between morally good comprehensives who are for the benefit of all and attended by the children of good parents and free schools, set up by private school mimickers like Toby Young and divisive, snobbish parents who want to exclude the poor from their child's education.

Such a simplistic picture misses the many nuances of the advantages of the new system as well as completely overlooking many of the failures of comprehensive schools.

One of the best arguments against free schools / academies is surprsingly rarely made - why not give all schools the same freedoms? If free schools are allegedly going to be superior to the comprehensive model why not make all schools free schools?

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 10/09/2011 - 07:32

It doesn't follow that because I rolled my eyes at the use of words like "Michaelmas" I disapprove of parents who quite sensibly don't want their children to become gang members or mothers under the age of 16 (remember, it is legal to marry at 16).

Note that I didn't attack other free schools for this pretention. Elsewhere on this site I praised the Krishna-Avanti free school in Leicester for genuinely appearing to offer places for all regardless of faith. This school is in one of the areas where the income is less than the national average. I have also said I want no free school to fail because school failure is bad for children. It's a pity that free marketeers don't recognise that.

My comments were aimed at this one school who deliberately chose a uniform outlet which supplies Eton. Why? DfE guidelines request that schools just choose a colour scheme so that parents can choose inexpensive items, yet WLFS insists on many items of uniform being purchased from one supplier contrary to the guidelines.

I do not doubt that a lot of work went on to set up this school, but each school received a great deal of help at the taxpayer's expense from the New Schools Network. Teachers in schools already do a lot of work providing education to all. It would be pleasant if politicians recognised that.

You say why not give all schools the same freedoms. Indeed - why not free all schools from the national curriculum? Why bother having a national curriculum review if Gove says that schools will be better without it? As far as the other "freedoms" are concerned, schools already had a lot of freedom to innovate and so on. The extra "freedoms" are administrative burdens which used to be offered by the LA (such as pay-roll) but will be done by schools thereby taking time which should be spent on education.

Shane Rae's picture
Mon, 12/09/2011 - 10:39

Cleaving the two points apart here:

1. I was talking about the expenditure required, in the first instance, of setting up a new school. Not in any way referring to ongoing costs which may or may not be lower than an existing school of similar size. I'm saying why not take that setup funding and put it into the existing schools? I can't make that any clearer.

2. You seem to be talking about FSM children and private school children as if these are the only two groups that exist. I believe there is another group which are neither of these. Looking into the Mossbourne situation, it doesn't appear that any of the Oxbridge candidates were on the FSM register, at least four of them have parents who own their own business?

Jake's picture
Mon, 12/09/2011 - 11:00

You are still not being clear when you say 'put it into existing schools' whether you mean capital or revenue monies? If you are talking about capital (which I think you are) then the DfE pot over the next 4 years for capex totals about £17 billion. This includes the recently announced £2 billion extra via the Priority School Building Programme. So the worst cases of need across the school estate are being tackled in any event outside of whatever the free school budget is.

Far from only talking about FSM or private school pupils I actually said that free schools will be "populated by all sorts of kids". That said FSM pupils or the like are the most relevant on this site in relation to the wider debate on social justice. I can't comment on the specific Mossbourne cases you mention because I don't have the details you appear to have.

Shane Rae's picture
Mon, 12/09/2011 - 13:52

I'll have to give up on that point then. I just can't figure out how to clarify the point further.

I Googled the Mossbourne situation, as I knew nothing about it. If you find the same results as I did, you'll also see some area Heads found Mossbourne's entry to be suspect as well.

Jake's picture
Mon, 12/09/2011 - 14:02

Have also just Googled Mossbourne and come across this piece from The Guardian. I can't see much to grumble about really. One would need to know the Admissions Policy to answer the typical gripe from other heads about pupil skimming but the stats of "41% of pupils came from low-income homes, entitling them to free school meals, and 38% did not speak English as their first language" appear to speak for themselves.

Jake's picture
Mon, 12/09/2011 - 15:03

But Janet - surely all schools can be the same? All they have to do is apply for academy status! All have won and so all must have prizes - see Guardian article here on why so many schools are happy to convert.

"So we then looked at the value for children of the local authority's input and we decided that they did us very little harm, but no real good. If local authorities are honest, they will admit they were already running down services. In a sense, we didn't leave the local authority, the local authority left us. There wasn't that much to lose."

ChampagneSocialistNetwork's picture
Wed, 14/09/2011 - 20:19

"...sleep walking into disaster" Nope, Francis you must have been in a Comma these past 20 years because we are already in disaster. As the riots in London show, most the rioters there are products of the comprehensive failure bestowed upon us since the 1960s and 13 years of "education,education,education" by Blair who avoided such schools for his children.
If key Labour MPs have been allowed to find escape routes into avoiding inner-city comps or bog-standard ones by using private,grammar,catchment or the church. While telling people they must send their kids to ordinary comps in a system they created.
Why can't parents also use an escape route? the only people that should be banned from avoiding sending their children to Comprehensive schools are Labour MPs,Peers & supporters since they are hypocrites. Everyone else should be given a choice.

The education system is already rotten & an education apartheid based on wealth as oppose to ability already exists.This is what happens when you allow a Political party to dilute discipline,adopt "trendy" teaching methods,introduce bureaucracy to teaching and destroy competitiveness making schools factories of failure & mediocrity. You produce a generation of ignorance who know no better. This system is already broke & failing it's done enough damage to my peers & I. It's time all parties recognize this & stop with the pretense. That is all academies & free schools are; that is fads to cover the cracks in a broken education system enforced by a model that has failed many bright & gifted people including those of my generation. It's tragic.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 14/09/2011 - 20:42

I suggest you read Melissa Benn's excellent new book "School Wars" . As well as being a short but but informative history of state education in this country, Melissa shows how our schools have not been broken but, instead, been victim to successive governments that have have never fully committed to coherent principles and ideologies to shape a system in order for ir to have solid foundations, effective infrastructures and sufficient investment to grow and succeed.

Despite this, the Labour government invested heavily in state education with the result that the vast majority of children benefted from new resources, buildings, facilities and other initiatives that increased opportunities for both the disadvantaged and gifted. Under the present government, many schools will be losing out as a result of swingeing cuts to public servants to combat a deficit caused by bankers, whose behaviours was every bit as irresponsible and reprehensible as any rioter in our inner cities. The schools that will benefit are those teaching the smallest number of children - Academies and Free Schools, whose development comes at the cost of diverting funds away from existing schools. Labour's Buildings Schools for the Future has become The Tory-led coalition's Building Schools for the Favoured.

I urge you to read Melissa's book. It is extremely well written, researched and gives a comprehensive view of the many types of schools teaching our children today. I hope you learn as much from it as I did...

ChampagneSocialistNetwork's picture
Thu, 15/09/2011 - 17:18

"Despite this, the Labour government invested heavily in state education with the result that the vast majority of children benefted from new resources, buildings, facilities and other initiatives that increased opportunities for both the disadvantaged and gifted."

Well I am dyslexic (which my school never bothered to pick up on) & from a single-parent home I can definitively say I did NOT benefit nor did my other peers at school from fancy facilities or finger print service cafeteria .The problem wasn't money it was at the core of the system's structure. It's was the lack of providing quality when providing us with an education through a failed ideological system based on a socialist utopia ideal where we learn from eachother then hold hands in the playground also where nobody is a loser and we all get the same prizes even if they are crap. That is just an ideological dream focused more on social engineering than real academic education. Also it fails to recognize that not everyone is academic or interested in Academia. lowering standards won't change that it will only bring others down. Although, making sure everyone is literate & numerate is vital however, when a child is 14+ we should be realistic in regards to their future and career plans.

*new resources or facilities did not help with poor discipline,rubbish curriculum, inflated
classrooms,teachers with poor attendance & some who were too inexperienced to teach. It wasn't a lack of money in my schools that made them crap it was the important things that mattered (i.e discipline,teaching methods, learning ethos,classroom sizes, qualified staff) that did. It only began to change a little for the better when a new Headmaster was appointed who actually cared for excellence & wanted to inspire students unfortunately for me he arrived during my last year. That is the only change that made a shred of difference at that shcool, but still I think standards could be better as in all schools. I wouldn't recommend it.

"committed to coherent principles and ideologies to shape a system"

The problem is *ideology that is what the Comprehensive system is, a failed one where us plebs who can't escape it or naively trust it have been forced to comply with, but we don't realize that all it is and has been is a social experiment gone wrong. The political elite are so pig-headed to admit they were wrong or it has failed at an ENORMOUS cost both socially & financially to the country they merely praise it in public but find ways to hide such a fate for their children. Labour are masters of doing that.
Sometimes I think its because they want to keep people ignorant in order to avoid them being capable of critical thinking, therefore easier to dupe.
Even the atheist David Milliband is sending his son to a faith school further away from where he lives when there is a normal comp on his doorstep.

Jake's picture
Thu, 15/09/2011 - 17:32

"......the only one smiling is the sun tanned boss
Work and work and work and work till you die
There's plenty more fish in the sea to fry"

The bog standard comp system has drowned in its own mediocracy.


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