'Zealot' Michael Gove is accused of 'lunacy' in £400m free school row...how is this affecting your children's education?

(228 Posts)
MillyDLA Sun 11-May-14 11:45:07

www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/classroom-controversy-zealot-michael-gove-accused-of-lunacy-in-free-schools-budget-row-9350075.html

I would like some reactions and thoughts to this. As a teacher in an oversubscribed school, surrounded by other over subscribed schools money would have been better spent creating more places where they are needed in the state sector.

EdithWeston Sun 11-May-14 11:51:41

Well the row is, at present, specifically about 30,000 planned places which cannot now be in the form originally conceived.

If you were counting on any of those places being in your area, then it could have a big impact, depending on whether or not the LA has successfully reached an agreement for a new provider to open up.

I read it as concerning only the opening of new schools to meet demand for places, not the expansion of existing ones (which continues, even to the extent of opening on second sites).

A lot of this of course comes down to the attitude and competency level of your LA.

We have three undersubscribed secondary schools where I live yet there is a huge planning application in for a free school to be built costing millions. The planning and design has already cost a fortune that should have been invested in local schools and the new school is proposed to be built outside a village where there is no walking access to the school and no catchment.

It is an utterly barking mad waste of money.

RiversideMum Sun 11-May-14 13:29:53

We are the same as you Milly. Primaries heaving at the seams, and an application in for a 14-19 school when 2 of the secondaries have places.

cotwatcher Sun 11-May-14 14:09:54

yes, that's all very well but are the schools with surplus places any good.....there are several schools with empty places in my area but I wouldn't let my DCs go to them.....the opening of the free school will give parents choice. I think it is a good policy. The worst schools should simply be closed.

EdithWeston Sun 11-May-14 14:19:49

The country needs more school places, and in some areas the need is acute (look at the demographic projections across London).

The problem is in getting those places on-stream in time where there is need. So some expansion, before the shortage hits, in places where need is anticipated in the next few years is actually a good thing (and a very rare example of forwards planning).

The difficulty is when existing schools are not near the places where people actually live or where new housing is planned (admissions black spots etc, and where no local group is agitating for a school (especially if in places where land is expensive or suitable sites simply not available).

In theory, if no free school provider can be found, then an LA can still open a school. Or can (as for those who want more grammar schools) fudge it by billing a new site as an expansion of an existing school (even when that school is some distance away). Have there been any specific cases where those routes have been attempted but disallowed?

More schools in areas with oversupply, and demographic projections hat mean the looming numbers crisis is unlikely to hit, does however seem crazy. Unless the expected 'suck' of pupils will ease pressure on neighbouring areas.

icecreamsoup Sun 11-May-14 15:28:30

"money would have been better spent creating more places where they are needed in the state sector."

OP, free schools are in the state sector, and they're the only to create new school places in areas where existing schools have already expanded to the max.

Many free schools are modelled on mainstream schools. Once they're open they are no different to any other type of academy. In some areas the Local Authority is actually the coordinator of free school proposals, bringing local educational establishments together and advising them on how to set up a school (e.g. see Kingston Academy). Free schools, just like academies can buy in services from the LA too, provided the LA has a commissioning model as many now do.

I live in one of the areas where schools are bursting at the seams and free schools have helped to take the pressure off.

teacherwith2kids Sun 11-May-14 16:01:18

icecream,

If there was a way to force free schools to ONLY open where school places are needed (e.g. to refuse applicatiions where projections show enough school places ) then I would have much less of an issue with them.

I am aware of a situation that seems to be arising (not local to us) where a good, rural, but not over-full school has had a large free school built beside one part of its catchment (despite no local secondaries having a shortage of places, and all but 1 being at least 'good'). Because the new school has become the nearest school for that part of the catchment, free school transport (ansd you are talking of an area where typical commutes to secondary are 5-10 miles) is now only being offered to the new, unproven free school, not the good previous catchment school.

So BOTH schools will operate part-full - the old school will lose pupils and money (and therefore staff) because parents cannot afford the £5-600 plus per year bus fare from parts of the previous catchment, and the new free school, though full of warm words, has no trackl record to match the existing schools but will have pupils who have to attend it for economic reasons.

Whereas 20 miles away in the same authority therer is such a shortage of school places that pupils are being bussed 10s of miles to a wide range of schools.

lionheart Sun 11-May-14 16:04:45

I was going to post about this too Millie.

more here

MillyDLA Sun 11-May-14 16:46:59

"money would have been better spent creating more places where they are needed in the state sector."

Icecreamsoup, yes I am aware that free schools are in the state sector too. My thinking around this is if we already have oversubscribed LA run schools wouldn't it be more cost effective to extend these? - 1 or 2 new classrooms, 2 teachers/2 support staff, than set up brand new free schools with a completely new team, head teacher, admin, support staff, kitchen staff before even providing money to address new places for children.
In my 'good' school classes of 36 infants, (yes with enough adults through support staff) to give a good adult/child ratio, but with lack of space, noisy rooms, lack of individual attention to children by the class teacher, stressed teachers who are exhausted working in such conditions, could be improved by money being provided to extend. We wouldn't need a new head teacher, we wouldn't be paying for extra admin, all money would be used to provide teachers and space, benefitting the conditions for good teaching and learning. Surely a priority for children.

MillyDLA Sun 11-May-14 16:50:57

cotwatcher - assuming that your new free school, which as yet seems to have no track record, can educate children to a high standard, without qualified teachers or leaders and without support from an LA full of experienced staff.

Whathaveiforgottentoday Sun 11-May-14 17:19:31

I'm not surprised by this news at all.
I live in a area where a school was closed due to falling numbers in the area but Gove decided that the thing to do was to allow a free school to open on the site despite the fact there was ample secondary school places and no projected increase in pupil numbers in the area. I feel for those with children in the the other 2 most local schools that are now competing with a free school faith school. The money invested would have been much better invested in the other local schools. Gove has a great deal to answer for.
Details on the development of this school have been closely followed on the website www.educatingbrentwood.com

icecreamsoup Sun 11-May-14 17:32:36

Milly: "if we already have oversubscribed LA run schools wouldn't it be more cost effective to extend these?"

Of course, provided there's space. In my area they've all been expanded to the max, and the demand is still increasing, so new schools are now needed.

"If there was a way to force free schools to ONLY open where school places are needed (e.g. to refuse applicatiions where projections show enough school places ) then I would have much less of an issue with them."

There is, but it needs to be a decision of the DfE as only they have the power to approve free schools.

I strongly suspect any free schools approved from now on will meet that criteria for exactly the reasons people have raised.

Reading between the lines of various announcements and press releases, the approvals policy has evolved quite distinctly since the start of the free school programme, partly in line with public opinion. At first it was all about promoting distinctive models and allowing private schools to convert. When that received a lot of criticism the focus seemed to shift to opening schools where existing standards were low and making sure there was a free school in every Local Authority. However when the criticisms about surplus places started growing to a crescendo, the focus shifted again to more of a "needs based" approach. As money has run out the focus has shifted even further from a broad definition of "need" which included a strong demand element, to more of a "basic need" approach.

cotwatcher Sun 11-May-14 17:36:43

Milly often schools are under subscribed because they are not where parents want to send their children. They are often in failing schools. Those experienced staff at the LA are not always the best people to advise and help. In my long experience in this area very often the LA staff are out of touch exteachers who are very expensive. They may have spent many years in education but that does not necessarily make them "experienced" or the best. They often have little experience of the world outside education. If parents want a new free school and are prepared to do the necessary work to establish it then they should be supported.....they are paying their taxes for the education system after all and it is their children whose futures are at stake.
Empty places nearby do not come into the argument, it is the quality of the places not the number that is important

RiversideMum Sun 11-May-14 17:37:48

In my area all the secondaries are good. All the primaries are full, whether good or in special measures. The only places with spaces are village schools where young families don't want to or can't afford to live.

teacherwith2kids Sun 11-May-14 17:48:45

"Empty places nearby do not come into the argument, it is the quality of the places not the number that is important"

So you are saying it is a better use of money to open a new school where there are already surplus places (where these are in less good schools - though perhaps it is worth considering what a 'less good' school means: one where lots of children come from challenging backgrounds but may make good progress albeit to a relatively low final level?) than it is to open a new school where there are no school places of any quality available.

I would suggest that where there are school place shortages anywhere in the country, money must be focused there first, to provide the needed places - providing extra places where schools are not full has to be a luxury. If the country can't afford both - and Ii suggest it can't afford to do both well - then it should do the first part first, before even considering the second.

Tbh, the quality of many of the free schools established thus far appears top be somewhat in doubt, given recemnt ofsted reports - like existing state, academy and private schools, some are great, some are good, some are dreadful whatever 'type' of school they might be.

Whathaveiforgottentoday Sun 11-May-14 18:02:35

We are all paying taxes so why should a disproportionate amount of our taxes be given to those middle class parents who want to open a free school. I'd be happy if the money was being evenly spread out and if the schools were opening in areas where they are needed but in many cases the evidence suggests otherwise.
Empty places nearby do not come into the argument I'm sorry but I totally disagree with this statement. In Brentwood, the two existing schools competing with the free school are suffering falling numbers as parents are opting for a faith school as obviously this is perceived as more selective due to their quite strict admissions policy. The other schools will suffer as falling numbers means they start having to pick up more kids that have been excluded from other schools (as they have the places) and their funding falls (as they have less kids). There is no evidence that the free school is any better as they only have years 7 and 8 and as far as i know, haven't been ofsteded yet yet the impact is already being felt.
Such a shame that the initial excellent idea of free schools has been so badly managed as it could have been so good for education.

icecreamsoup Sun 11-May-14 19:27:34

"those middle class parents who want to open a free school"

How do you know what their class background is, and why does it matter so long as the schools follow the Admissions Code and sign up to the local Fair Access Protocol?

icecreamsoup Sun 11-May-14 19:34:04

"I'd be happy if the money was being evenly spread out and if the schools were opening in areas where they are needed"

Not really possible to satisfy both of those because the "basic need" tends to be concentrated in certain areas - notably London.

"suffering falling numbers as parents are opting for a faith school"

Fully sympathise with that, but faith school admissions are a separate issue. They have been a problem for some time now in VA schools, and free schools are actually less selective in comparison. See this thread.

cotwatcher Sun 11-May-14 20:01:51

the free school I am talking about is in a very challenging area of the north west where virtually all kids are on free school meals...it's not about pushy middle class parents. Surely you accept that there are poor, badly run schools and a free school ( pushed for by very unmiddle class parents and others) will benefit the kids. Yes other schools will suffer and teachers are being made redundant but that is what the real world is like

Ubik1 Sun 11-May-14 20:07:46

I was reading that Ofsted is concerned at the number of free schools which are failing

Whathaveiforgottentoday Sun 11-May-14 20:16:37

Sorry, slightly bias as basing it on the one free school that I have experience of and i still think was a mistake to open and the other schools in the area were doing well. The school that closed was the failing school although the decision to close it was based on falling numbers in the area and not the fact that it had been through special measures. Plus in this case, it was very much middle classes shouting loudest - personally thought we could have done with a UTC on the site as provision for vocational education is quite weak in the area.

I remember when free schools were first talked about and thought they sounded a fantastic area and in principle still do. However, there has been some very strange decisions allowing some schools to open in areas that really didn't need them. The fault lies with Gove with his blinkered view that all free schools are a good thing which is a shame as its taints the image free schools including those that were and are very much needed in the areas where they have opened. I'm not against free schools just some of Gove's decisions regarding free schools.

icecreamsoup Sun 11-May-14 20:41:09

Whathaveiforgottentoday, a UTC is just another kind of free school, so as you say, your issue is with one free school rather than all of them.

For me that's the main problem with the illusory "choice" agenda (which isn't just about Free Schools, but also about faith schools and grammar schools). Yes, it caters for parental demand, but it pitches different sections of local communities against each other, when what we need is cohesion. My vote would be for more high quality mainstream community schools, and I'd like to see more of those being set up under the Free School policy (or whatever replaces the free school policy in the future).

nobodysbabynow Sun 11-May-14 21:35:37

I "strongly suspect any free schools approved from now on will meet that criteria for exactly the reasons people have raised"

There is no reason to suspect this given that nothing of the kind has happened so far. Only 19 per cent of secondary free schools opened so far are in areas of need. In Kidderminster this week, a financially failing private school was converted to a free school, allowing them to use some of that public money to pay off the debts run up by the company running the school. I don't consider that a useful way to spend money that has been cut from the budget of other schools.

icecreamsoup Sun 11-May-14 22:15:27

"There is no reason to suspect this"

Nobody, as I said, its based on observation of how the language around the approvals has evolved in response to public criticism.

- In the first wave of free schools (for 2011 opening), the focus was on "innovation ... to improve choice" with no mention of "need" at all.
- By the second wave (for 2012 openers) was announced, the innovation word was dropped and the language was more about raising standards.
- for the third wave (for 2013), in response to negative public criticism about free schools just being niche provision for middle class families, there was a strong focus on emphasising the wide geographic spread of the approvals, including areas of deprivation, and on catering for strong demand and a need for more places.
- by the fourth wave (for 2014), in the face of media stories about a school place crisis, the emphasis on providing extra places in areas where there were shortages was strengthening.
- the fifth wave announcement (for 2015) clearly emphasises the provision of mainstream places (all UTCs and Studio Schools) in areas where there are shortages.

There are two more waves due to be announced for 2015 opening. The Wave 6 announcement is due any time now, although don't hold your breath because I doubt they'll be announced before the local elections on 22nd May. In the meantime I've heard of 2 high quality applications that have already been turned down because they couldn't demonstrate a Basic Need for places. That's why I suspect the next announcement, when it happens, will also only include schools in areas where there are shortages.

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