102 new free schools win approval


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The Independent Online

More than 100 new free schools have been approved to open in England over the coming years, Prime Minister David Cameron announced today.

The approvals will bring to almost 200 the total number of the new-style primary and secondary schools, which are state-funded but independent of local authorities.

They include a school in south London for vulnerable pupils, including teenage mothers and children expelled from mainstream schools; a sixth-form college in east Manchester supported by Manchester City football club; a "faith sensitive" co-ed in Oldham; and secondaries backed by universities in Birmingham and Plymouth.

Mr Cameron is expected to say that the free schools "symbolise everything that is good about the revolution that we are bringing to Britain's schools - Choice for parents. Power in the hands of teachers. Discipline. Rigour. High quality education in areas that are crying out for more good local schools".

Unveiling the list of 102 approved applications, most due to open in September 2013, Mr Cameron will hail the first wave of 24 free schools which are now completing their first year of teaching.

He will say: "The free schools revolution was built on a simple idea. Open up our schools to new providers. And use the competition that results to drive up standards across the system.

"Get behind parents, charities and committed teachers who are trying to make things better. And give them the freedoms they need to transform our education system.

"That is what we have been doing. And the message from the first two years is clear and unambiguous. Free schools work. And parents and teachers want more of them.

"So more is what they are going to get. The next wave of free schools begins with a further 50 opening this September. And today I can announce that an additional 102 free school applications have now been approved for opening in September 2013 and beyond."

Free schools are established by groups including parents, teachers, faith groups and charities and have powers to decide how they spend their budgets and set their own curriculum, teaching hours and term-times.

But teaching unions have claimed that they adversely affect neighbouring schools when they open in areas with no shortage of spaces. One free school, at Beccles in Suffolk, sparked controversy last month when it emerged it had received just 37 applications for 162 places when it opens in September.

The Department for Education said that 88% of the primaries approved today are in areas with a shortfall of places and 63% in an area with a severe need for more places.

Some 67% of mainstream schools approved are in the 50% most deprived communities in the country. And there will be five special schools and 12 "alternative provision" schools to educate vulnerable children.

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: "Free schools are driving up standards across the country. Now more and more groups are taking advantage of the freedoms we've offered to create wonderful new schools."

Some 34 of the schools approved today are in London, with 16 in the South East, 12 in the North West, 10 in the East of England, nine in the South West, seven each in the West Midlands and Yorkshire & Humber, four in the East Midlands and three in the North East.

Chris Keates, the general secretary of teaching union NASUWT, said: "Despite the spin put on this announcement by Downing Street, this is not a good news story.

"Free schools are opened at the expense of neighbouring schools whose already diminishing budgets will be top-sliced to fund them.

"They are not required to meet the entitlement of all children and young people to be taught by a qualified teacher.

"The curriculum is developed not to be broad and balanced and to meet the needs of all children and young people, but often on the basis of the personal preferences of the sponsors.

"Empty office blocks and other such premises will house some of the children.

"Free schools are not even required to have an intake of pupils before they open and taxpayers' money is committed.

"There is no evidence that free schools raise standards.

"Children and young people deserve better than to be used as guinea pigs in an ideological experiment."