We should welcome the Education Secretary Michael Gove's new "free" schools – run by a variety of parents, teachers and faith groups. Some will provide a breath of fresh air with innovative thinking – like the re-arranging of the school year to avoid long summer holidays introduced at Aldborough E-ACT primary school in Redbridge, one of two to open yesterday. Research shows a shorter summer break can have a beneficial effect on the standards its recipients attain during the ensuing school year.
In addition, since we have a system whereby faith schools exist for some religions, we can have no qualms about allowing Hindus and Sikhs to run their own. Both communities open free schools this September. It is also welcome news that – of 323 bids – only 24 were approved as a sign that considerable rigour is being shown by civil servants assessing the proposals. One major fear this new legislation provoked was that an extremist group could get funding for a school by the back door.
Having welcomed the idea in principle, though, there are two caveats. There is nothing wrong in free schools serving, as Nicola Perry, principal of Aldborough, said yesterday, "aspirational" parents. But we would encourage them to play their part in improving the life chances of children whose parents are not aspirational, too.
Also some proposed schools, which have obvious educational merit – in particular in tackling the gang culture in places like Lewisham, south London, have failed to find a way through the vetting procedures. All in all, however, a cautious thumbs-up should be extended to Mr Gove's scheme, along with an exhortation to his department not to relax its scrutiny of new proposals – while making sure that those which are educationally sound are able to get off the drawing board.