Free From?

5th August 2010

The launch of the government’s new free schools policy this morning was a perplexing affair. The rationale appeared to be something like this.
  1. There are lots of pointless rules and regulations that stifle innovation and effective practice by schools (i.e. bike racks and the curriculum)
  2. Schools would do better without these
  3. Therefore lets set up a whole new set of schools who won’t have to follow these.

Whilst the piddling £50 million being set aside might be enough for a few of these schools to set up, the implication remains that whilst these rules are being declared unnecessary, the thousands of schools that aren’t free schools should still be bound by them. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t it in the government’s power to take away/adapt these rules and burn the massive pile of regulations we were shown if it sees fit to do so. If this were done then there wouldn’t be any need for a whole new breed of schools anyway. If this can’t be done then surely its because these rules are considered to have some value and so it’s a bad idea to “free” schools from them after all.

Sadly I’m still none the wiser about how the schools will work practically either. Can anyone be a head teacher in one of them or do you still need an NPQH? I didn’t see much about this on the mini application from for setting up. It might be an idea to check that someone in charge of large sums of tax payers’ money is appropriately qualified to manage their budget and institution. Will they be inspected according to the same OFSTED framework as other schools? What controls will there be on what they do and don’t teach? There might be perfectly good answers to all of these questions but we didn’t hear any of them.

Then there are the financial questions. They are, apparently going to be cheap to set up because they can be set up in disused shops etc. So much for encouraging healthy living through school sports then! Questions about the financial implications for other schools were answered by saying that the budget per pupil will not be reduced. However, where new schools are set up in areas in which there hasn’t been an increase in the pupil population this necessarily means a reduction in income for existing schools if the number of pupils they have drops. It’s easy to answer that this will just encourage competition and that competition = rising standards = “hooray!” but that’s simply not the case for pupils who don’t get a place in the new school and are stuck in a now under-pupil-ed, under- resourced and oversized school- that’s no way to make efficiency savings.

Really we should just make sure that the regulations that control schools are well designed and limited to what’s needed across the board. Then we can encourage the school leaders of tomorrow who bring exciting and innovative ideas to join great schemes like Future Leaders and then make sure that they are able to take on positions where they can achieve all the impact that we’re told they would have in “free schools”.