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Advantages of Free Schools?

(47 Posts)
Teachermumof3 Wed 07-Sep-11 13:50:04

I caught on the television yesterday (might have been the news/One Show-I can't remember) a list of advantages of Free Schools, one of them being that they don't have to use qualified teachers!

Is this really an advantage-tsk!

The Head of a new free school was being interviewed and was saying that they have small class sizes which is wonderful (I have 34 in my class...) but I want to know what the admissions criteria are! Will they have to take anyone who wants to go there-how do they pick and choose? Will statemented or traveller children or those in care get priority as they do in many state schools or not?

CogitoErgoSometimes Wed 07-Sep-11 14:26:13

They have to adhere to the same rules on selection as other state schools in the area. They get the same per pupil budget as other state schools. They will also get the 'pupil premium' for children who receive free school meals. I think the advantages can only be judged on an individual basis. The 'advantage' might be that the school exists at all, if there are simply inadequate places available. If they perform well for the community they serve then they'll be popular, successful and other schools might be able to learn from any differences in approach. If they don't perform well then they'll disappear.

doigthebountyeater Wed 07-Sep-11 19:12:20

Erm, the pushy middle class parents' children will no longer have to share a breathing space with the oiks. That's the true agenda, let's face it...

Solopower Wed 07-Sep-11 19:23:41

I was explaining free schools to a group of Europeans today. I told them that anyone could decide to set up a free school, that they didn't have to employ qualified teachers (so they could bring in ex-army personnel, religious gurus or business moguls to teach the children); that the teachers' pay and conditions could be different from in state schools, that they could make the school day as long or as short as they liked, and that they would be funded by the taxpayer. Also that some private schools are going for free school status in order to save money, and that as Cogito says, they would receive a 'pupil premium' to motivate them to take on kids from poorer backgrounds.

They were astonished - but reassured by the fact that the children have to take the same national exams (GCSE, A levels etc) as everyone else. However I imagine they will be looking very closely at the International Bac - some schools already offer it anyway.

Solopower Wed 07-Sep-11 19:24:46

And I can remember a free school in Sydenham in the early eighties. There were a group of people living in a commune who decided to set up a free school for their own kids, and they were allowed to do it. None of them was qualified, as far as I know, and the kids could decide which lessons they wanted to go to.

Plus there's AS Neil's Summerhill, after all. I thought that was a very interesting idea. The only way these new free schools are different, I think, is that they are funded by the taxpayer.

nojustificationneeded Wed 07-Sep-11 19:26:19

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

niceguy2 Wed 07-Sep-11 19:29:39

Whilst in general I believe teacher training is valuable, I don't see it as a be all & end all.

I remember one of the best teachers I ever had as a teenager was unqualified. I guess back then it mattered less about what pieces of paper you had or what letters you had after your name. More emphasis was placed on whether or not you could teach.

I'd rather have a teacher who can naturally teach and inspire kids in their subject than one who is qualified but can't teach for toffee.

Teachermumof3 Wed 07-Sep-11 19:31:50

Can they cut out children on a 'behavioural' basis? If you had a child that had eg been permanently excluded from 5 different schools (as I had last year)-could you as a parent/the head/the other people who had set up the school refuse to admit them?

that they could make the school day as long or as short as they liked

That was one of the other advantages on the program I watched. The parents were raving that their new free school was open early in the morning and stayed open until very late. Add the 'unqualified teacher' bit and this points to very cheap and long childcare!

grumplestilskin Wed 07-Sep-11 19:34:09

I went to one! great ideas in theory! but...

the one I went to became a terribly trendy place to send your child (if you had the money to do private but were choosing to be alternative IYKWIM)

We learnt lots of facts about other cultures which we wouldn't encounter much (native american indians) yet travellers got turned away

Parents with fantastic skills to share were pushed aside and we ended up getting a disproportionate lot of input from a cliquey few parents and their particular interest/skill areas

Ended up going to a very traditional school instead which was much more inclusive and welcoming. They integrated traveller children really well

grumplestilskin Wed 07-Sep-11 19:36:18

Teachermumof3, yes, in my experience. They did horrible things to find loopholes. They had open arms for certain trendy types of diversity and disability but if the wrong kind applied.... "oh we welcome all kinds but we JUST decided to shrink that class size for this year, nothing personal at all it was completely unrelated to your application" or some such rubbish

grumplestilskin Wed 07-Sep-11 19:43:02

another problem in the school I went to (and I went to it in the first years of it opening so kinda experienced the worst of the teething issues) was that a lot of parents (the "in" ones of course!) were terribly flattered that their skills were so valued that they were being asked to do sessions, but in reality, a few weeks down the line they quickly tired of dealing with other people's children and a lot of them lost enthusiasm and motivation to plan sessions well, some kinda just expected to turn up to "AN AUDIENCE WITH THEM" and be asked intelligent questions about their job by 9 year olds who would listen intently and clap warmly at the end! [hmmm] One (electrician) refused to run any sessions whatsoever unless everyone brought all the complicated equipment he'ld listed the previous week, he seemes as miffed as if an adult working for him had turned up without their tools repeatedly. OF COURSE in a room full of school kids, not all of them will have turned up with all the correct equipment to build a whatever-it-was-that-week. There is a good reason why some people are teachers and other's aren't TBH

Solopower Wed 07-Sep-11 19:55:18

<climbing onto soapbox>
I think that one of the greatest problems in today's society is social inequality. Listen up at the back!

If you really wanted to address that problem, would you start with free schools? I don't think so. I think you would remove private schools and provide the same state education to every child, put them in small classes in small schools with excellent ( + qualified) teachers and give them all the amount of money they needed (which doesn't necessarily mean the same). That doesn't mean they would all receive the same education of course - because schools vary widely and have different ethoses (?).

Or you would completely disband the state system and have all free schools.

(To me the key is small. Small and local is good, usually).

And the fact that private schools still exist is proof to my mind that this government, along with all previous ones of course, is not interested in social equality - whatever they say.

Solopower Wed 07-Sep-11 19:58:08

Grumplestiltskin, tell us more! Was the school just for primary-aged kids? If so, how did they adjust when they went into the mainstream aged 11? Was there anything good about the school? I think it must have been a really interesting experience.

grumplestilskin Wed 07-Sep-11 20:19:21

yes just primary (am sort of enjoying how my primary education, which I rarely gave a second thought to till recently, is now regularly such a facinating subject LOL)

I went when it opened, I'ld done 2 years of "normal" primary and stayed there for 2 years, then was taken out.

we had trained teachers too, they focussed a lot on the core philosophies lessons, they took up much of the time, a lot of other time was taken up with "in" parents (who happened to be very into drama and dance). it was a shame as there were parents who were fluent in different languages but even though some of them founded the school, they were pushed aside in favour of drama and dance people.

Core philosophies lessons mostly seemed in my memory to be about making african masks out of papier mache and colouring in pictures of Hannukia. Lots and lots of learning facts about cultures we never encountered in RL, and lots of bloomin mask making and dancing around... then everyone went home and swore at travellers who were near the school on the way sad (not everyone!)

Don't think anyone from there was particularly disadvantaged in secondary (no choice but mainstream), but it wasn't really a HAPPY place, don't think people look back on it that fondly like they do the other primaries I went to. Wasn't HORRIBLE but just... no it just wasn't "right". I think even as kids we were aware of all the politics going on with the adults and the school was more about them than about us!

NormanTebbit Wed 07-Sep-11 20:22:08

Qualified teachers are all bastards

It's a fact.

NormanTebbit Wed 07-Sep-11 20:22:28

Non-qualified ones are lovely though

grumplestilskin Wed 07-Sep-11 20:27:18

the kids of the "in" parents who ran the place all stuck together too, and the teachers seriously favoured them! the "normal" schools were much more of a level playing field.

you didn't pay fees to the school but if your family wasn't a member of the expensive tennis/horsey/country clubs then your vote didn't count there!

ilovemydogandMrObama Wed 07-Sep-11 20:28:27

it's like home schooling, but at school grin

Solopower Wed 07-Sep-11 20:30:36

How big was the school, Grumple? Interesting that you were aware, even as a child, of all the divisions between the parents. Were you allowed to choose what classes to go to? Did you have a pupil council? What were your maths lessons like? <tell me to myob, if you like ...>

grumplestilskin Wed 07-Sep-11 20:40:54

no didn't choose classes, but did choose the afternoon parent run sessions, I did chess, electrics and cookery. There wasn't a whole lot else on offer TBH once some lost motivation and others were pushed out by other parents

I don't remember a pupil council but there probably was one, but I wasn't one of the select few (with "in" parents) who would have been pulled aside by the suck up teachers and encouraged to put themselves forward for the vote. About 6 kids in my class did everything, entered every competition in the town and we all had to help them... often they were encouraged slightly quietly to enter and by the time the likes of me piped up to say "hey I'ld like to enter that too".. OOOPS deadline's closed, you should have said sooner like XY and Z (but I didn't know about it like the other politically unimportant kids). The likes of me would first hear about it when the "top" kids were standing in a row on front of us and we were being asked to vote for which one of them would win IYKWIM.

Maths - I can't really answer that because I was always very very good at maths and did it for fun at home, certainly wasn't pushed or challenged at that school, I do remember maths classes being fun (i.e. difficult, I liked to be challenged in that subject) in the next school I went to, but no memory of it in the free school. There must have been some.

grumplestilskin Wed 07-Sep-11 20:41:54

class sizes were about average for that town at that time (which was small by today's standards).

grumplestilskin Wed 07-Sep-11 20:57:13

oh and I did crossword club too as a parent run afternoon session. There really wasn't a lot of choice in reality, not once things settled and people dropped off...

Solopower Wed 07-Sep-11 21:04:14

It sounds a bit chaotic? And not much fun for you.

Tbh, that is one of the things that worries me about free schools, and hearing about your experience rings a lot of bells for me. The parents are so often the problem! And it's not healthy to have a clique of any sort running a school, imo.

What could happen, I suppose, is that the school starts up with a certain ideology, but that only survives for as long as the charismatic person with the idea and his/her three or four devotees are active. Then it flounders in different people's interpretations.

Faith schools would be supported by the wider, established community, so they would probably be alright, though.

grumplestilskin Wed 07-Sep-11 21:18:08

the founding parents, who did all the hard work getting it up and running, didn't even get to maintain their ideology while they were there, the trendy cliquey took over almost instantly once it opened (having had nothing to do with getting it there in the first place).

I am not anti free schools I fully support them being there to provide another choice for parents (and free up places in other local schools for me wink ) HOWEVER I am not tempted by the sparkley new one in my area as it'll only be in it's second year when my LO is due to start school. I think going to a new free school is a massive gamble.

The free school I went to is still up and running. I get the impression that in terms of teaching it's fallen into stride with "normal" schools quite a bit apart from still having the same core philosophies class, and having a few drama and arts extras. It has a wide variety of incomes but NOT a wide variety of backgrounds if that makes sense?? it's still FASHIONABLY diverse, but the diversity doesn't really reflect the town so much if you know what I mean?

I'm not ruling it out 100% for my LO, I don't THINK i'ld go for it but I'll wait and see how things play out. At the moment I'm hoping he gets a nice mainstream state school but don't believe in 100% ruling out something for ones children just because it didn't suit the parent as a child IYKWIM. And there's probably a whole range of different free schools too and I've only been to one of them

grumplestilskin Wed 07-Sep-11 21:24:47

it was quite gross the way the teachers slobbered all over the 'it' parents, I can still picture them

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