Experts: UK has too many types of school

As PM backs free schools, senior figures complain of 'liquorice allsorts' system

David Cameron was accused last night of creating confusion throughout the state school system after pledging to open hundreds of new free schools within the next few years.

Click HERE to view graphic: England's Secondary Schools Explained (509.92kB)

One senior academic said the Prime Minister was creating a "liquorice allsorts" system with a bewildering array of different types of schools. Instead, argued Professor Alan Smithers, a senior adviser to the Commons Education Select Committee, ministers should concentrate on improving standards in all state schools.

"We've got secondary schools with specialist labels that don't specialise, we've got all kinds of faith schools and we've got three types of academies," he added. "Surely the Government's duty is to try to provide a decent standard of education for every child in the country. This is a 'liquorice allsorts' kind of system whereas all children should have an equal chance of a decent education. I would like more effort put into improving the education of those children whose parents aren't experts on choice."

Mr Cameron, meanwhile, has asked his old school, Eton College, if it would be prepared to set up a school in the state sector. He met representatives of leading independent schools in Downing Street on Thursday, and told them he wanted all private schools to consider how they could help drive up standards in the state sector.

Eton's headmaster, Tony Little, said after the meeting that he was looking at "several possible routes" for helping the state sector.

In a speech yesterday at the opening of one of the 24 free schools starting this term, Mr Cameron said he believed hundreds of free schools could be opened during the next few years. He said he wanted to bring "rigour" back into the classroom and restore order and respect in schools. This would be done by focusing on standards, discipline and changing the structure of the school system.

He said the free school policy – whereby parents, teachers, faith groups and education charities are given the funding to set up their own schools – had "really taken off".

Mr Cameron has said he wants to see a touch of "elitism" and competition return to the classroom in place of the "all must have prizes" approach to education.

The Government is encouraging as many schools as possible to become academies – opting out of local authority control and running themselves in the same way as independent schools. There are now 1,300 academies in England – about a third of the state secondary school system.

However, Mr Cameron came under fire from academics and teachers' leaders last night who claimed he was "dismantling" the current education system. Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, criticised the "relentless changes to our school system which continue to astonish observers abroad".

"What parents really want is the opportunity to send their child to an excellent state school wherever they live. I do not believe we will achieve this by continuing to experiment with new structures and introducing a competitive market where some schools are set up to fail." Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, added: "The union simply does not agree that the fragmentation of our education system is the right answer. The free schools and academy programme are a divisive and unnecessary experiment with the education system which will certainly ensure more losers than winners."

However, Margaret Morrissey, spokeswoman for the parents' pressure group Parents Outloud, welcomed Mr Cameron's call for a return to more competition between pupils. "I don't think a bit of elitism would necessarily be a bad thing," she said. "Schools need to get the best out of their pupils and this is a fantastic way. There has been too much political correctness in the past."

But she counselled against assuming that all children at academies and free schools would go on to higher education. "There are other routes out of education such as apprenticeships and technical skills and they should recognise that," she said.

In his speech, Mr Cameron also warned of a crackdown on "coasting" schools – those that were not actually failing but not improving or getting the standards they should be with more privileged intakes.

In names and numbers

Pay attention at the back...The choices facing parents

3,446: There are 3,446 state secondary schools in England. The vast majority (about 2,950) are comprehensive in name. There are still 164 selective grammar schools in the country and the rest are either secondary modern schools or "high" schools (effectively secondary modern schools that choose to use a different name to describe themselves).

1,300: Within that 3,446 figure, there are 1,300 academies. The difference between these and those that remain maintained by the local authority is that they have the same freedoms as independent schools to set their own curriculum, hire non-qualified teachers and run their own affairs. There are, to complicate it further, two types of academies. There are those set up under the previous Labour government which have sponsors (education charities, private providers, independent schools and universities). There are 319 sponsored academies. Under the Coalition, existing state schools – firstly those described as "outstanding" by Ofsted – were allowed to transfer to academy status. There are 981 transferred academies.

10: A further complication is that virtually every state secondary school is a specialist school, specialising in one area or another of the curriculum. (There are at least 10 types of specialist schools including languages, science, maths, arts, sports, humanities and even rural studies.)

16,884: There are also 16,884 primary schools in England. Only a handful have decided to convert to academy status.

7,000: The picture is further complicated by the fact that about one in three English state schools (primary and secondary) are faith schools. There are just under 7,000 of these. They can either be voluntary aided or voluntary controlled. If they are voluntary controlled, the diocese or faith group has a far greater say over admissions. A breakdown of the faith schools reveals that there are 6,955 Christian state schools (mainly Church of England or Roman Catholic but with a handful of Methodist schools, too), 36 Jewish, six Muslim, two Sikh, one Hindu, one Greek Orthodox and one Seventh Day Adventist.

24: To this mixture can now be added the free schools: 24 of which have opened up for the first time this September. David Cameron has said he wants this figure to rise to the early hundreds in the next few years. Once it is set up, a free school has the same freedoms as an academy. The difference is that it is a new school started by a variety of parents', teachers' or faith groups (or education charity). It is also possible for a free school to be a faith school, but it must offer 50 per cent of its places to non-believers – a requirement not asked of mainstream faith schools.

2,415: To add to the mix, there are 2,415 independent schools: 1,625 primary and 790 secondary. These educate about 7 per cent of the school age population.

372: The picture elsewhere in the UK is simpler than in England. In Scotland there are 372 secondary schools, all comprehensive in intake. Of these, 53 are faith schools (all Catholic). There are 2,099 primary schools, 318 of which are denominational or faith schools, 314 Catholic, three episcopal and one Jewish.

1,435: In Wales, there are 1,435 primary schools and 222 secondary schools. All the secondary schools are fully comprehensive.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
News
Clarke Carlisle
sport
Sport
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
David Hasselhof in Peter Pan
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
News
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
News
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Environment
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
Voices
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K - £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been we...

Opilio Recruitment: Product Owner

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We are currently recruit...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'