Education & Family

Eight free schools in England are close to final approval

Classroom scene
Image caption The first free schools are expected to open in the autumn

Eight groups are now at the final stages of approval to open free schools in England.

Four of the proposed schools are due to open in London and the others are planned for Suffolk, West Sussex, Norwich and Leicester.

Education Secretary Michael Gove is to make the announcement at a free schools conference in London.

He wants all new schools to be free schools or academies - state-funded but outside local council control.

There have been 249 proposals put forward by groups keen to set up a free school.

Most of those are in the early stages of approval.

Thirty-five have been given at least initial approval and have been developing their full business case and plan.

Until now, only one school was known to have reached what the government calls the "pre-opening stage" - meaning their business case has been approved.

That was the Stour Valley Community School in Suffolk, which was approved earlier this month. It grew out of a campaign by parents to save a school and the scheme is now being led by community leaders.

Now seven more plans have been added to the list. Some of these schools will be faith-based; some are proposed by existing academy sponsors and one is teacher-led.

They are:

  • ARK Conway, Hammersmith and Fulham
  • Discovery New School, West Sussex
  • Etz Chaim, Barnet
  • The Free School, Norwich
  • I-Foundation, Leicester City
  • St Luke's Church of England Primary School, Camden
  • Woodpecker Hall, Enfield.

Many groups wanting to set up schools will be at the conference in London, meeting ministers as well as education experts from the United States who have been involved in setting up charter schools - which are similar to the new free schools.

They will get advice and take part in workshops on how to go about getting their plans off the ground.

Mike Feinberg, a co-founder of a chain of charter schools in the USA called Knowledge is Power (KIPP), is among the speakers.

A teacher, he set up a school in Houston's inner city.

"We wanted to give students in under-served communities an opportunity for success in life. There are now 99 schools across America, that give children from low-income families a better education, proving that demographics do not define destiny," he said.

"I am excited that free schools will be opening up in England and offering the same possibilities."

Anguish

Penny Roberts is a former teacher and a parent who is one of those behind the plans for St. Luke's Primary School in Camden, London. The plan is also backed by church authorities.

She said: "I've been through the process of applying for primary school places for my own children and I know the anguish that parents go through when there just are not enough primary school places, so for us it's just a wonderful way to meet a community need".

The government has not yet said how many free schools will open in the autumn, but some have begun their admissions processes.

Twenty-four schools were in the first group to gain initial approval from the government for their plans and it has been reported that about half of those might open in September.

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