Where are the parent-led new Free Schools?

11 Oct 2011

Parent-led groups appear to be in the minority of the latest batch of new Free Schools announced by the government today.

Of the 63 Free Schools already approved or in the pipeline to open in 2012 and 2013, 23 are being set up by existing schools, 2 are existing independent schools and 12 are being set up by faith groups.

Several more of the new Free Schools are being opened by charities that already run large 'chains' of academies. These include: ARK, E-E-ACT, and the Harris Federation

The rest are being opened by a variety of groups, some of them led by parents, but others led by teachers, charities and community groups.

A spokesman for the Department for Education says it is unable to give the exact number of parent-led proposals, as opposed to those that have some parents involved, at this stage. He added that the department hopes this 'will become clearer as each project develops'. He added: 'However, nearly all the community proposals have some parental involvement, even if they're not the main driving force'.

In 2007, when the Conservatives first seriously promoted their idea of free schools, they stressed that parents would be in the lead.  Their Green Paper in November 2007 said 'our proposals will make it much easier for parents and others to establish good, new schools'.  More recently, the 'and others' part of that promise has been given a more prominent role as ministers have realised that parents are not  taking the lead in the creation of the great majority of Free Schools. 

Amongst the relatively few schools being opened  by parents' groups are two schools being opened by the Constable Education Trust which was set up by parents who were particularly concerned about provision for children with dyslexia or other learning difficulties.

Of the 11 faith schools already approved seven are Christian schools, and there is one each from the Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh faiths.

11 schools are being set up by existing schools or academies. Two are independent schools - Grindon Hall and St Michael's Catholic school -  that will join the state sector. Grindon Hall is an all-age Christian school in Sunderland which currently charges around £7,000 a year for secondary age pupils. It is non-selective. St Michael's in Truro is an 11-16 independent school and the only Catholic school in Cornwall.

Of the 11 faith schools already approved seven are Christian schools, and there is one each from the Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh faiths.

Of the 63 Free Schools, 52 have been approved to open in 2012, three in 2013 and a further eight are 'in the pipeline' to open in the next two years.  

University Technical Colleges

  The government has also announced that 13 new University Technical Colleges (UTCs) have been approved to open in 2012 or beyond with a further three in the pipeline.  UTCs are academies for 14-19 year-olds and focus on providing technical education alongside academic studies. All are sponsored by universities and employers. Two have opened so far, and three others are in the process of being set up.

Chris Keates of the NASUWT union has warned that UTCs could lead to pupils specialising too early and 'being encouraged to make decisions about their future learning at too early a stage and in a way that could reduce their employment chances later on'. She added: 'many 14 year-olds simply will not be ready for such life-changing decisions'.

  It is expected that 10,000 students will be attending UTCs by 2015. There are no admissions tests fro 14 year-olds and the schools operate a longer school day and longer year than usual. Pre-16 students spend 60% of their time on academic studies and 40% on technical specialisms. Post-16 that ratio is reversed.   

User Comments

Ian Taylor - 11 Oct 2011

Parent led Free Schools

Mr Gove's policy on Free Schools has a similar level of transparency to that of the private arrangements of the Secretary of State for Defence. Answers are not freely given or are designed to obfuscate. Special treatment is given to old pals. Most people can see deep down that a corrupt system is being set up for the benefit of a few. Our system of a democratic society is gradually being undermined.

Eylan Ezekiel - 19 Oct 2011

ONSchool - a parent led group in Oxford

In Oxford, we are trying to create a school that would be based on cooperative community values. However, the barriers to normal parents doing this are enormous - and it seems clear that Mr Gove was either being naive or disingenuous in encouraging parent led proposals. The process is becoming entirely weighted towards academy chains, and wealthy communities.
We are trying hard to do this 'right' - and are about to launch a social media driven campaign to push our proposal along - as this is the only scalable way we can afford to do it.

I'd be happy to share more about what we are doing - but, for now, thanks for highlighting the problems.
Also, thank you for continuing to illuminate the debate around the complex areas in education.


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