Education & Family

Free schools: 24 set to open in September

Kings House, site of the new free school
Image caption The Free School Norwich will be based in a former office building

A total of 24 new free schools set up by parents, faith groups and others will open in England next month.

The state-funded but semi-independent schools have mostly been created in the 15 months since the coalition came to power.

Education Secretary Michael Gove says the schools will drive up standards, especially in poorer areas.

But critics say they will take resources and pupils from other schools and lead to less local accountability.

The schools will open in church halls, listed buildings and temporary classrooms, as well as in former office blocks and libraries which are being refurbished.

The free schools programme was one of the Conservatives' flagship policies in the last election.

About half of the schools opening next month only signed their final contracts with the government in the past few weeks, although their plans and works were advanced and children had been recruited.

There had been applications from 323 groups.

A total of 17 of the new schools are primaries, five are secondaries and two are "all-age" schools.

Eight are in London, with eight more in other parts of southern England, three in the midlands and five in the north.

Some of the schools are being set up by academy trusts or chains - groups which are already behind several academies in England.

Academies are similar to free schools in that they are also funded directly from central government (as all state schools will be under planned changes), sit outside local authority control and have more control over the pay and conditions of staff than other schools.

The government says half of the new free schools are in deprived areas. Some critics of the free schools programme have claimed they will be set up and used mainly by the middle classes.

Mr Gove said: "The most important thing for any parent is to be able to send their child to a good local school, with high standards and strong discipline. That is why we are opening free schools across the country. I am delighted to announce that the first 24 will open this year.

"Too many children are being failed by fundamental flaws in our education system. The weakest schools are concentrated in our poorest towns and cities, and we are plummeting down the international education league tables.

"By freeing up teachers and trusting local communities to decide what is best, our reforms will help to raise standards for children in all schools."

The government has also given details of the amount of money it expects to spend in capital costs, on buildings for the first 24 free schools.

It says current estimates put this at between £110m and £130m.

Originally it had set aside £50m in capital funding, when the policy was announced. It says that amount was for free schools in 2010-11.

Many of the schools will start up in temporary accommodation, both on and off their permanent sites.

There are shortages of primary school places in London and the Midlands and the government hopes these new schools will help ease that problem.

'Reckless experiment'

Strong opposition to the new free schools has come from some Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs, as well as the teaching unions, who say they will take resources and pupils from other schools and destabilise the system.

Chris Keates, the general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, describes the free schools programme as a "reckless experiment with the future of children and young people".

"There is no evidence that the free school model raises standards but there is evidence from abroad, especially Sweden, where there are huge concerns," she said.

"Free schools have been selective and socially divisive - and there is no evidence they have raised standards."

The government says the US Charter schools movement is closer to its free school programme and that in Chicago and New York, Charter schools have helped close the achievement gap between rich and poor students.

More applications for free schools are in the pipeline.

The schools opening in September are:

Aldborough E-ACT Free School Redbridge

All Saints Junior School Reading

ARK Conway Primary Academy Hammersmith & Fulham

ARK Atwood Primary Academy Westminster

Batley Grammar School Kirklees

Bradford Science Academy Bradford

Bristol Free School Bristol

Canary Wharf College Tower Hamlets

Discovery New School West Sussex

Eden Primary School Haringey

Etz Chaim Primary School Barnet

The Free School, Norwich Norfolk

Krishna-Avanti Primary School Leicester

Langley Hall Primary Academy Slough

Maharishi School, Lathom Lancashire

Moorlands School Luton

Nishkam Free School Birmingham

Priors Free School Warwickshire

Rainbow Free School Bradford

Sandbach School Cheshire

St Luke's Church of England Primary School Camden

Stour Valley Community School Suffolk

West London Free School Hammersmith & Fulham

Woodpecker Hall Primary Academy Enfield

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