AIBU to feel that Free Schools are creaming off middle-class families and creating division?

(218 Posts)
KeepOnRockinginthefreeworld Sat 20-Jul-13 10:52:54

Name change as I've been thinking about this for a while...

We have a Free School in our area. It's generally felt to be successful, has a waiting list, and plans to expand at some point. BUT while it was founded "to create extra spaces", its intake seems to mostly to consist of children poached from the surrounding schools (the remainder are bussed in by parents from miles away). The uniform is entirely bespoke from a private school supplier, so no Tesco items, it's about £300 plus for a full set.

Now, I totally get that Free schools are there for "choice" but my concern is that this seems to be selection-by-stealth: they are trumpetting it as a "naice" school, "better" and more privileged than the local community schools (which are perfectly OK) . The parents who transfer to them tend to be the ones with money for the uniform/aspirational for the "best" for their child, and those children have a much lower level of SEN and pupil premium .....it just seems unfair to me that children in the area whose parents have low income, multiple DC, or aren't pushy don't have the same opportunity within the state sector. Everyone has the right to a good education and the Free Schools just seem like an excuse for middle-class parents to remove themselves from the mix of intake that is in the community while getting subsidised to do so.

Can I ask AIBU by feeling uncomfortable about this segregation? Is this just peculiar to the free school in our area? Are there other free schools near you where the uniform is cheap, they aren't creaming off children from surrounding school, and all children from the area are genuinely welcomed irrespective of ability and income?

hermioneweasley Sat 20-Jul-13 16:51:17

Is it really any different to house prices being higher near good schools, so therefore less affordable? £300 for a uniform sounds like a bargain compared to doubling your mortgage!

BoulevardOfBrokenSleep Sat 20-Jul-13 16:58:34

"So because some people don't have the ability to do something, does that mean no one should be allowed to do it?"

No, but it might mean that it shouldn't be funded from general taxation.

SkiSchoolRun Sat 20-Jul-13 17:06:31

Where I live the free school is Montessori-based. It opened last sept. Lots of people went as they had no where else to go - big bulge year - or in year transfers for kids who were struggling in the mainstream schools reception/y1 classes. This Sept sees the first full year (I think, it was oversubscribed but Continuing Interest and a new class in a main stream school mean lots have moved on since allocation). Those I know who have chosen it are either at Montessori pre-school, quite lefty, a bit woo, have "boys who need lots of different stimulation" (quote unquote).

CloudsAndTrees Sat 20-Jul-13 17:15:54

It might, but I don't think it should when it comes to formal education.

KeepOnRockinginthefreeworld Sat 20-Jul-13 17:19:16

I think the chip on my shoulder about this stems from the sense that free schools are being mis-sold. They are publicised as "free access for all" and carrots are used to pull children to them from other schools, bribes like "every child gets a laptop/violin/swimming lessons/super class sizes of twenty" and then what actually happens are that people with less money are discouraged from applying by implication that it's posh/unafffordable (and seeing the start up costs to go to the school). The already-privileged children whose parents do get them in to the free school then get the extra carrots and of course they are happy!

Plus -seperate issue with my PTA head on-, taking away from the community schools multiple sets of motivated parents with more time and cash to spare reduces the number of PTA supporting types within the normal schools...
It does sound like some Free Schools are genuinely inclusive, which is great (and clearly uniform is expensive at some regular state places!). I just wonder how the funding works so that they can afford smaller classes, laptops etc.... And is it taking resources away from the surrounding schools as well as creating "naice" enclaves?

NeoMaxiZoomDweebie Sat 20-Jul-13 17:23:51

Rockingthefree I am fully working class....grew up in a tiny mining village in the 70s....child of Thatcher all that.

I strongly believe that you need a set of balls to get by in life if you're working class. You need the balls to push, the balls to try things out when they're usually the privilege of the middle classes and you need the balls to say "I don't give a shit" when people judge you for your accent.

I don't have a tonne of empathy for people who are put off trying for free schools because they assume the violin lessons will be expensive or the uniform too much...it's weak and I can't get along with people who don't even make a phone call to ask details.

I suppose what I'm saying is that it's just tough on those who don't look into things due to fear. You can't moan about their fear on their behalf really. It's patronising and unnecessary.

formicadinosaur Sat 20-Jul-13 17:24:38

300 on uniform is expensive but not enough to completely segregate. I'm sure if you approached the school there would be second hand uniform available for pennies. We have to pay about 500 for bus fares to a normal comp school here. Our local free schools aren't snobby, more alternative.

formicadinosaur Sat 20-Jul-13 17:27:45

I actually have a lot of respect for parents who remove their child from a state school that isn't working for them. Most parents wouldn't question and look at other options education wise. I see that as weak.

sittinginthesun Sat 20-Jul-13 17:28:24

I'm not a fan of the ethos of Free Schools, but I have to say that our local Free School (due to open this September) is truly inclusive and very much needed. Massive shortage of secondary spaces, local authority bee faffing for years about building a new school. Decided it will build one, and now arguing about location of site.

In the meantime, group of teachers got together, built up public support, and the new school is due to open this year.

What neomaxizoomdweebie said. Ditto.

CloudsAndTrees Sat 20-Jul-13 17:30:39

I agree formica. I admire anyone who has been heavily involved in creating a school from scratch.

TabithaStephens Sat 20-Jul-13 17:35:04

If they are good schools, where is the problem? Surely the parents that want the best for their kids are in the right, and the parents that don't give a shit are in the wrong?

ParvatiTheWitch Sat 20-Jul-13 17:41:16

Does anyone know the answer to the poster who has asked IMHO, the most pertinent and intelligent question on the thread?
Why are the free schools getting the money to fund class sizes of 15-20 when state school class sizes are around the maximum 30 pupil mark?

Did anyone see the documentary a good year or two ago about Toby Young setting up a free school (I thin it was one of the first ones, if not the first one). What put me off was the way the catchment area for this school was in a really long thing strip that encompassed the white British area and cut off the mainly British Asian catchment area. Funny coincidence that hmm. Also the parents setting it up were dreadful braying types; I wouldn't like to be rubbing shoulders with them on a regular basis, I must say.

Great thread, BTW. I would like to know more about it. I feel deep down it's not quite right and as a typical person from the "peoples' republic of Liverpool" I should be against it, but I can't quite gather enough knowledge to articulate any specific moral objections; for example, primary school places in my town are in really short supply and a free school has been muted as an idea. If it provides the extra spaces to save little kids from being taxied or bused to schools outside the community, couldn't it be a good thing in that circumstance? We have five primary schools in our large and booming town and it still was only just enough this yea.

GigiDarcy Sat 20-Jul-13 17:46:58

A friend applied to work at a free school near her and it had class sizes of under 20. Apparently they had chosen an existing building with small rooms so this was the max number that could be in a class. Personally, as a teacher, the idea of free schools and academies worry me in that you don't have to be a qualified teacher to work in one.

Aquamildred Sat 20-Jul-13 17:50:26

I am very interesting in our new free school.
Students normally progress by 18 points during their five years at high school but child one has already improved by 11 points in English and 18 points in science.

Child 2 has progressed by six points in English and maths and eight points in science while child 3 advanced 10 points in science.

PanicMode Sat 20-Jul-13 18:06:59

I am on a Free School committee for a primary school opening in September. We are opening in an area where there is a big shortage of places, and yes, we are a leafy middle-class town, but many of our pupils are coming from schools where they feel they are being 'failed' by the 3 form intake schools and where they are currently on FSM - we aren't creaming off the top but aiming to have as broad an intake as is possible. We are only taking 24 a year and are aiming to be a school deeply rooted in our community, where the local people are involved in and feel connected to the school. Our uniform jumpers are 'bespoke', but the rest of the stuff is available (deliberately) from the supermarkets.

However, a big reason that many free schools have failed to open is due to the immense difficulty in securing sites. We are opening on a brownfield site in the centre of town, which has been purchased by a developer for housing, and they are making a significant contribution to the cost of the school through their S.106 obligations. Unfortunately, as they develop their houses, our catchment will shrink and the intake will become less mixed because the houses are expensive. There are flats and some affordable housing, but we are aware that we will end up taking from a less diverse socio-economic group than originally we planned. However, as the development is located in a 'black hole' of catchment areas, none of the children living in the new houses would have been given a local school and so we do feel that we are fulfilling a need, and are reducing congestion because the council have been allocating children places on the outskirts of town where the only places are left.

We are subject to Ofsted inspections, we will be doing the new curriculum and all of our teachers are highly qualified. We think that we are offering something a bit different and we are open to all - using the same entry criteria as all of the other schools in the town/county. The money is coming directly from Government, rather than the council, and is at the moment anyway, the only way that new schools can open - even though there is a desperate shortage of primary places nationally. It's been a HUGE amount of work, we have had to jump through so many hoops to get approval, funding etc etc and we are lucky to have a very supportive and enthusiastic cohort of parents willing to take a chance on us in just over 7 weeks time......

There is a fantastic article about the Greenwich Free School in The Economist (I would link but I only have the pdf) which my father sent me yesterday about how they really can make a difference to those living in very difficult circumstances, and from very deprived backgrounds. It may be your perception of the school. The local state comps here have expensive uniforms so I don't think it's just a Free School issue. We have had to prove that we will do our best to attract a certain percentage of FSM children and making a difference to those who don't have the advantage of parents pushing them from home to achieve.....

KeepOnRockinginthefreeworld Sat 20-Jul-13 20:11:23

Panic, that sounds highly laudable, I hope it goes well for your school.

neomaxi, I'm not complaining on behalf of all working class parents everywhere, just stating my unease at the "divide" I am seeing as a local parent. Please don't presume about my own circumstances (I have three DC and yes, I'm sure that there are probably options of help for uniform from the school if we were to apply there). I am happy with our current school but suppose I am just a bit grumpy that the free school is being funded to have smaller classes and sparkly facilities and it's implied that commoners need not apply (yes it is an implication, and I'm glad you feel fully able to fight your corner yourself, but not everyone has your confidence.)

TabithaStephens Sat 20-Jul-13 20:24:22

If not having to use qualified teachers proves to be a problem, parents won't use the free schools and they will close. My prediction? It won't be a problem.

Lambsie Sat 20-Jul-13 20:37:27

Our local free school due to open next year is currently an independent school. It is changing to a free school to avoid closing.

I find the whole scheme very intriguing and would not mind enrolling my child in one.

ReallyTired Sat 20-Jul-13 20:40:45

I have nothing against free schools, but I feel its wrong that the LEA are no longer allowed to open their own school. All new schools have to be free schools/ academies even if its the LEA who are doing 90% of the leg work.

My children's school is ridicolously over subscribed inspite of being in special measures. A little girl who is just slightly down the road from us has been given a school two and half miles away. The level of red tape involved in opening free schools mean that the extra places our area need are not being provided for dd's year group.

We need governant money to fund NECESSARY schools for areas that have a places crisis. My friends wants a bog standard primary school (preferly with a good OFSTED) in walking distance. Ironically there are six schools within a mile of her house but they are all over subscribed.

meditrina Sat 20-Jul-13 20:41:49

A disproportionate number of free schools are Hindu faith schools. I think there is more to this than perceptions of class.

MalcolmTuckersMum Sat 20-Jul-13 21:03:49

Parvati - really? I mean - really? You said -

Also the parents setting it up were dreadful braying types; I wouldn't like to be rubbing shoulders with them on a regular basis, I must say

Swap the 'dreadful braying types' for 'common as muck gorblimeys' and you'd have the whole of MN on your arse faster that hot shit off a well oiled stick. It's not ok to categorise and demonise groups of people like that, IMO anyway - it's really not.

HollyBerryBush Sat 20-Jul-13 21:05:34

I have to say, most of the recruitment adverts I've noticed for Free Schools in the TES seem to be based in rather deprived areas rather than middle class ones.

FadedSapphire Sat 20-Jul-13 21:15:08

The Free school wannabes near me are definitely trying to cream off the more motivated middleclass families -only have to scratch the surface a little to realise.
I find it very depressing.

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