Free Schools a Brief Introduction

Saturday, July 21, 2012
Free Schools a Brief Introduction This article looks at the new type of school that has been created by the coalition government in the UK, the free school. The Academies Act of July 2010 paved the way for the creation of free schools in England and Wales. Free schools are an extension of the powers created to academies and the idea stems from the free school movement in Sweden and Charter Schools in the USA. The basic idea behind a free school is that the school is set up by a group outside of the local authority who usually provides the frame work for setting up a school. Free school can be created by groups or parents, teachers, charities, businesses, universities, religious or voluntary groups. The school will have academy status which places it outside of the control of the local education authority. As the school is independent it has the ability to have a much higher level of control over many aspects of the school. The administration can exercise influence on the curriculum, length and timing of school days, the types of teachers employed and the pay and conditions of those teachers.

Although the school are “free” from local authority control they will be regulated by OSTED. OSTED oversee all schools in England and Wales. The STATS, GCSE and A-Level results will be published along with the league table all other state schools. Models of Free Schools In order to set up a free school a clear business case needs to be made for the school and a detailed plan submitted to the Department of Education. There has to be a clear vision for the school and a sound business case as to why the school is needed. There are three basic free school models. Those models are promoter model, sponsor model and the school provider model. Of the three models the promoter model provides the most control for those looking to set up the school. In this model those looking to open the school campaign for the school to be set up, outline the vision, work on the design and show that they can effectively manage the school if it is created. In this model those who have created the school will play a significant role in the running of the school on a daily basis. They will also oversee the performance of the school.

If those looking to start a free school want to partner with an existing education partner then the sponsor-run school model is the best opinion to choose. This model allows for those looking at creating a school gain from the experience and knowledge of those already running educational establishments. The school is set up with Academy Trust Status. This model does offer less control over the daily running of the school as this is carried out by the sponsor. The third main model is the school provider model. In this version the school is set up with Academy Trust Status but parts of the running of the school can be outsourced to other partners. This allows for those looking to create the school to bring in experience and expertise in the areas they believe they are weak without ceding complete control to another provider. Once a model has been selected there is a process to follow in order to gain government approval for the proposal. The Application Process In order to apply to open a free school those making the application have to agree to the following: teach students of school age (aged 4 to 19), have more than 5 pupils over the age of 5, take account of the special educational needs code of practice, abide by its own admission policy, be run by a charitable trust and provide a balanced curriculum include core subjects of English, Maths and science. They do not however have to teach the national curriculum. Once these points have been agreed then the process is as follows. In April the completed applications must be submitted to the Department of Education. An assessment of the application is then undertaken by the Department of Education and due diligence of the application carried out. If the application is shortlisted then those looking to create the school will be called to an interview in August. Those who have been chosen will then find out in September giving them a year in which to put their plan into action. History so Far In the first year of the process there were 323 applications for free schools. Of these 41 schools passed the first stage of the process with 24 progressed through the last stages and opened in September 2011. Of the total 323 applications 115 were from faith schools. Of those that opened in 2011 six were faith schools. These faith schools included Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Church of England and one even based on the Beatles old guru the Maharishi religious teachings focused on yoga and meditation. The 24 schools will cost in the region of £110-130 million to create although a fair amount of this capital is for set up costs of temporary buildings and permanent buildings. There are no clear figures on how much they will cost to run on a yearly basis. As the schools have not even reached their first half term it is impossible to know what the impact on the levels of education in the long term is impossible to tell. Tony Heywood © 2011 Visit these websites for more information on Academy Conversion and Starting a Free School