The idea of a ‘free school’, one which was vigorously championed by Michael Gove during his time as Secretary of State for Education, has attracted both a great deal of critics and plaudits.
So what exactly are they and what’s the fuss?
These are schools propped up by the government yet are not controlled by a local authority. The first obvious concern that came into my mind is a non-uniform curriculum. Free schools, while being told to offer a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ have shown to do anything but that. I tried to convince myself that deviating slightly off curriculum couldn’t be that bad. But some don’t just deviate slightly, with creationist free schools being approved of by Gove. Once again, I thought this could simply be a minor discrepancy. I was wrong. Many religious schools are being set up under the Free schools initiative. This, coupled with many unqualified teachers working for free schools gives the impression that free schools do more harm than good to our current education system.
The Tories, however argue that the introduction of free schools will drive up educational standards and narrow the gap between lower and higher income families when it comes to providing quality education. A fairly extensive analysis conducted by Rebecca Allen of the Institute of Education tells us that academic improvement is minimal, if anything. With free schools in Sweden not showing any pronounced increases in educational standards, what distinguishes our set up from theirs?
In fact, the government education policy put in place during the 2010-2015 government, was openly questioned by Deputy Prime Minister at the time, Nick Clegg, who remarked:
“What’s the point of having a national curriculum if only a few schools have to teach it?”
There’s also a lot of ambiguity over whether free schools help the wealthier or poorer in society. With the Guardian and the Department of Education having clashed over whether free schools are attended primarily by the rich or the poor, not much is known about the socio-economic background of free school attendees. While Government figures indicate that these schools are seemingly being set up in areas of deprivation, this post illustrates how most free schools being set up have on average, children from wealthier backgrounds.
Conversely, many free schools have achieved high academic standards while running on costs lower than that of a state school, indicating that if they run well, free schools can be a force for good. If free schools have shown to drive up educational standards in some places while having a unique curriculum tailored to their students needs, then that’s great. I’m sure many parents would welcome the fact that they a have a broader choice of affordable schools in which their kids can go to.
That’s a big ‘if’ though and one which I wonder is worth the hassle.
The conclusions I’ve drawn for delving into the British education have left me both confused and undecided as to whether free schools are the revolutionary change we need or simply an excuse to teach a lopsided curriculum.
What’s your take on this all? Drop a comment below.