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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 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?

nlondondad Thu 16-Jan-14 22:55:51

This is of particular interest to people living in Islington, London, but it ought to be of interest to anyone worried about whether or not there will be a place for your child in primary school as what is proposed is the setting up of a Free School in an area where school places are not needed: the deadline for responding is noon, next Tuesday 21 January

Whitehall Park School is a proposed Free School for the London Borough of Islington. It was announced in June 2013.The proposers are a for-profit company, Bellevue Ltd who run a number of fee paying schools, both in the UK and Switzerland. The main shareholders of Bellevue are a hedge fund based in Zurich. They have stated that their preferred site is the old Ashmount Primary School site. This site is vacant because Ashmount School has moved a short distance to a new building, on a new site. Bellevue have asked that the vacant site and building be obtained for them by the Minister; the Minister has power under the Academies act to appropriate it without paying any compensation to Islington Council.

Islington wanted to use the site for social housing, as the particular area is well supplied with school places with the capacity for more if required in existing schools. They could expect to get a bit over three million pounds from a Housing Association for the site – money required for repairs to Islington Schools.

So if the Free School goes ahead on this basis there will be no three million for Islington schools for repairs, no extra social housing to relieve overcrowding, and the loss of other housing related Government grants some of which would be spent on education.

It now seems that a consultation is being held about this by Bellevue except they have not told anyone about it. The only mention of it is on their website, but not on the home page but several clicks in, under a button labelled "consultation" which before pointed to a brief note about a previous consultation saying it was over...

This is the announcement: I am not clear when it was actually made.


Bellevue Place Education Trust (BPET) is entering into an additional period of consultation relating to the site of the proposed Whitehall Park School. The consultation period is open now and will run until 12 noon on Tuesday 21st January 2014.

Following discussions with the Department for Education and the Education Funding Agency, BPET is now able to name the preferred site of the school as the site of the former Ashmount Primary School at Ashmount Road, Islington N19 3BH.

The Trust welcomes any comments in respect of the plan to locate the proposed school on this site. To participate in the consultation, please email any comments to Specifically, we would like your answer to the following questions:

Do you think the proposed Whitehall Park School should open on the site of the former Ashmount School at Ashmount Road, Islington N19 3BH
Please explain your reasons for your answer to question 1
Please give any further comments that you would like to be considered in our consultation
All comments must be received by 12 noon on 21st January 2014"

My own views on this are well known, I shall respond by opposing it. By posting it here I am giving you the opportunity to express your own opinion, for or against. An opportunity Bellvue seem to wish to deny you by not telling you about it!

nlondondad Wed 13-Nov-13 14:43:48

And, another, VERY RELEVANT posting on the Local Schools network here:-

nlondondad Tue 12-Nov-13 11:19:50

It seems that Toby Young made a really interesting contribution to the debate about Free Schools in the Sunday Times last weekend, and there is a discusion of it on the Local Schools Network here:-

nlondondad Mon 14-Oct-13 10:13:42

My fist thought is to point out that, for me at least, this is not about "one size fits all"

A free School being promoted by parents, using public money (and they pay taxes) in an area where extra places are needed is a completely differnt proposition from a Free School being promoted by a commercial, profit making company, using public money, in an area where places are not needed.

Not all Free Schools are the same, which is why I do NOT (unlike say, the NUT), say I oppose all Free Schools but I do oppose the one in Islington...

Retroformica Sun 13-Oct-13 23:44:28

The schools in my area totally represent the nature of the communities here. We have two big bog standard comps, two grammars, two well heeled private schools, two paying Steiner schools and hopefully now a Steiner style free school (with no blondes on brochures). There is also a huge and wonderful home schooling community. As a parent I quite enjoy being able to choose an education that suits my children/family situation. One size does not fit all.

nlondondad Sun 13-Oct-13 23:05:57

relevant thread here:-

nlondondad Thu 10-Oct-13 18:20:36

Also isnt writing off any reservations people may have about shelling out north of 300 pounds for a compulsory uniform for a school funded by everyon's taxes as being "It's all about priorities" a little smug?

nlondondad Wed 09-Oct-13 10:11:20

I am not sure what you mean when you call me "liberal speaking" perhaps I should take it as a compliment, as to the rest, this is a dialogue and an argument in which I am personnally interested in being engaged in order to clarify my thinking. Therefore if for example you feel misrepresented by me, or that you do not make the assumptions I have attributed to you (based on my interpretation of what you wrote) do make this explicit.

Also as you correctly point out, if people keep ideas to themselves we cant really respond to them.

I try to respond in that spirit.

NK493efc93X1277dd3d6d4 Tue 08-Oct-13 23:19:19

Oh dear Liberal speaking London dad - your choice of assumptions reflects your personal viewpoint and not the points I was making.

Of course some people might want a different change but if they are going to keep those ideas to themselves then we cab hardly respond to them can we!

nlondondad Tue 08-Oct-13 17:46:49

Have you chosen that particular name to make it difficult for people to refer to your posts? Anyway, at the risk of seeming familar I shall call you NK49 for short...

So. @NK49

The point is that the "additional choice of a Free School" has the potential to impact everyone, individual choices can have an impact on other people than those choosing. This can create a conflict of interest, that needs to be managed. You write of people being "forced to remain where they are" so do you favour people being "forced' not to so remain -if they wish?

Further your comment makes two unwarranted assumptions:-

1. That it is an automatically bad thing for people to want to preserve the status quo

2. That people who oppose a particular change from the current state of affairs must be supporters of the status quo; they might want a different change.

NK493efc93X1277dd3d6d4 Mon 07-Oct-13 23:57:46

Sounds like many opposed to the additional choice of free school are happy with the status quo and would be happy if everyone were forced to remain where they are just to preserve it.

As for the uniform issues - there are many parents around here who moan about the cost of a school logoed jumper but are happy to pay for logoed sportswear for their kids to wear at weekends!

It's all about priorities.

nlondondad Mon 07-Oct-13 22:59:26


(I am not the op by the way)

1.If people want to segregate themselves should they be assisted financially, by the state, to do so?

2.The point of my example was to show that if one group decides to segregate themselves this creates a direct conflict with those who do not want to be segregated; their choice NOT to be segregated is blocked. How is this conflict of interest to be dealt with?

frankie4 Mon 07-Oct-13 18:39:18

The free school opening near us has had a lot of information online about its creation, along with a lot of meetings for interested parents. The sort of parents applying are those who have researched on the Internet and have spoken to friends etc about the new school. These parents are not necessarily middle class but they are the sort that are actively looking for a different school for their children. A lot of parents I know cannot be bothered and are happy to send their children to the local established comps as it is easier and they do not know enough about the new type of school. This is obviously selection of parents in a way.

Also, looking at school uniform lists on a school website is not an indication of what needs to be bought. My dc's school had a long list but most of the kit like football clothes etc only need to be bought if you are on the school football team, and no one buys the tracksuit or the jacket. They say to buy the trousers from the uniform shop but everyone buys them from other shops and the school do not mind.

ringaringarosy Mon 07-Oct-13 17:59:47

yabu op

If someone wants to segregate themselves,why cant they?if you decide whats on offer locally,by the government,why not look elsewhere?you sound jealous.

nlondondad Mon 07-Oct-13 17:56:36


Perhaps this will make it clearer.

Let us suppose there are two schools in an area, both being funded out of our taxes. Let us suppose that there is no shortage of school places (cos if there is a school place shortage, then, mostly parents take the place they can get). As part of the stated aim of setting up Free Schools is providing choice, Free Schools can be, and, are being set up in areas where there is no shortage of places and where the addition of the Free School creates an actual surplus.

So parents have a choice between the the two schools. The original school is very diverse, has about 40 per cent of the pupils on free school meals, and also has a wide range of ethnic diversity with no single, ethic group predominating. The social mix works well for all parties but this requires unobtrusive, behand the scenes, effort. The large majority of the middle class parents are white, and owner occupiers. The large majority of working class parents are living in social housing, but no single ethnic group predominates. As a signficant number of the children are of mixed heritage straightforward labelling by ethnic group, even if desirable, is often difficult.

The new, Free School arrives. It announces that it brings with it "private School" values. Its visual publicity shows only white children (a significant proportion of whom are blond) and the cost of a compulsory school uniform is north of 300 pounds. (The existing school has a dress code)

Question: Do you expect that there will be a difference in composition between the two schools in the future?

nlondondad Fri 04-Oct-13 19:13:43


And why exactly should I get taxt payers money to support my "own vision"?

Waspie Thu 03-Oct-13 20:59:06

Ofsted observed that girls where being made to sit at the back of the class and that female teachers were being forced to wear facial coverings. Health and Safety is the reason put out by the school by certainly isn't the reason being given by the media as the BBC link I posted makes clear.

Unfortunately free schools don't have all the sanctions and safeguards that LA controlled schools do. At least Ofsted must still be allowed through the doors. If they hadn't inspected and seen the contraventions of equal opportunities and human rights this school may have been able to continue it's subjugation and prejudicial policies.

nlondondad is correct - ethnic segregation is worse than mad and shouldn't be permitted in our school system.

friday16 Wed 02-Oct-13 23:13:02

In this incident I am glad Free Schools under the umbrella of ofsted.

How can an Ofsted inspection proceed when the school is closed for "Health and Safety" reasons? Are the lesson observations going to be a bit weak?

Crowler Wed 02-Oct-13 22:17:48

Surely 300 for 75% of a child's wardrobe is not extortionate.

If you feel so strongly about it, form a committee to form a free school of your own vision.

nlondondad Wed 02-Oct-13 22:09:50

Having spent some time as a child in Northern Ireland I regard the creation of religious schools where they do not exist already as mad; where this has the effect of enabling ethnic segregation worse than mad.

Waspie Wed 02-Oct-13 13:29:38

The creation of niche religious schools as free schools sits uncomfortably with me, so I'm glad free schools have to be Ofsted inspected too EmeraldJeanie. For me, state schooling should be open to all, totally equal opportunity <educational utopia grin >

EmeraldJeanie Wed 02-Oct-13 12:42:44

The ofsted report will certainly be interesting I think Waspie.
In this incident I am glad Free Schools under the umbrella of ofsted.

Waspie Wed 02-Oct-13 09:38:03

Free schools are certainly not getting great press at the moment. just this morning the news that the Al-Madinah Islamist free school in Derby has been closed BBC News link

nlondondad Tue 01-Oct-13 21:20:06

Where was the reference to poaching?

Anyway in the case of Rutherford House School, what I suppose I am accusing them of is using the uniform policy, and cost, to exclude, for example parents on free school meals.

But whether they draw in children who otherwise would go to an ordinary school would depend in large part as to how many places there are in the area. if there is a shortage of places then poaching as such not relevant except that if the school successfully targets the professional middle classes, then that could affect the composition of neighbouring schools I suppose.

Floggingmolly Tue 01-Oct-13 20:27:05

How did they poach the children from surrounding school? Sounds most unlikely.

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