Wednesday 6 May 2015

What future for free schools?

The introduction of “free” schools was one of the more controversial innovations of the Coalition government of 2010-15.

Free schools are state schools funded by direct government outside of local authority control.  Over 400 free schools have now opened.

Supporters assert that they give parents real choice and drive up educational standards whilst critics argue that they are a waste of money, diverting public money away from areas that have a greater need for investment.

Should a Conservative led government take hold, the free school plan is due for expansion. There are 500 additional schools in the pipeline.  This is again likely to incite debate, as many schools are planned for areas that have solid existing school provision.

If Labour take control, then no new free schools will be opened.  Existing free schools will be free to continue to operate as before, though some observers think it likely that they will be drawn back under local authority control over the duration of the parliament.

It is worth remembering that free schools are an extension of the academies policy introduced by the Labour Government under Tony Blair.  This has allowed existing schools to move from local authority to central government control.  The key difference between the Labour and Conservative positions is whether money should be invested in new school – through free schools – or within the existing school network.