ASCL says opening free schools may be waste of money

School fence Mr Lightman fears free schools could send other local schools into a downward spiral

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Opening free schools in England where they are not needed is a "shameful" waste of taxpayers' money, the leader of a head teachers' union has said.

In a speech on Saturday, Brian Lightman of the Association of School and College Leaders, also said free schools might damage existing schools.

"Such experimentation is deeply and unequivocally immoral," he told heads.

A government spokesman said free schools would give parents more choice of schooling for their children.

Free schools are funded from the public education budget, like other state schools, on a per-pupil basis.

However, they are run independently from local authority control by not-for-profit trusts, which can buy in private sector services.

In a speech to the union's annual conference, Mr Lightman said: "ASCL has no objection to new schools opening in areas where there is a shortage of school places but we cannot condone the creation of costly surplus places when other services are being cut."

Start Quote

Children are not guinea pigs in some educational lab”

End Quote Brian Lightman, General secretary, ASCL

The union suggests that free schools planned for Suffolk, Essex, Bristol and Teesside are all in areas where there are already surplus places. It is also concerned that free schools may receive more generous funding than other schools and accuses the government of being opaque when it comes to free school budgets.

Mr Lightman called on the government to publish spending figures for the next three years for each new free school.

'Downward spiral'

He said he wanted parents to be able to see how these figures compared with funding for other schools in their neighbourhoods.

And he suggested other nearby schools could be thrown into a downward spiral because of falling pupil numbers and lack of investment.

"Children are not guinea pigs in some educational lab. Schools that have been consigned to the dustbin of our education service in this way cannot be expected to create the conditions which enable them to raise standards.

Start Quote

We cannot continue with a system where thousands of parents are forced to send their child to a school that is either weak or simply isn't right for them”

End Quote Department for Education

"No-one in government should be contemplating standing by and watching as some schools fail in order to use it as a lever of change," he said.

Failing system

In a statement, the Department for Education (DfE) said: "We cannot continue with a system where thousands of parents are forced to send their child to a school that is either weak or simply isn't right for them.

"Our school reforms will help put this right by creating a system that works for - not against - parents, many of whom live in the poorest parts of the country."

The DfE said that free schools would cost a fraction of schools built under Labour's Building Schools for the Future programme.

Rachel Wolf, the director of the New Schools Network, which advises groups wishing to set up free schools, said what would be immoral would be to leave the school system in England as it was, because it was "letting down parents across the country".

"Most teachers care about pupils not politics and free schools gives them an opportunity to focus on what matters. Thousands of parents and teachers have supported Free Schools because they believe that every child - not just the wealthy - should be able to go to a good local school," she said.

"We need to stop defending the status quo and offer children something better."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 249.

    246 U14761436

    What's a school-chav? Or did you realise at the last minute that maybe parents have a role in how their kids turn out? And your 'disproportionate number'? Well, we were talking about unsubstantiated 'facts' weren't we.

  • rate this

    Comment number 248.

    Of course they are. We have finite resources, so the huge amounts going into tbese schools means less somewhere else. The best provider of education should provide all education, whoever that is. Anything else breeds division and elitism. No postcode lottery in education please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 247.

    @241 - please don't think I'm defending the man - I'm not - I find many current policies ignorant and abhorrent - but let's not get caught up in meaningless tautologies: 'We want a world-class education system' - who doesn't? 'Government policy is politically motivated...' - no surprises there. At least we are well-educated enough to identify the idiocy and work harder against it next Election!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 246.

    If the education system is such a success, why is there a disproportionate number of illiterate violent unlikeable school-chavs?

  • rate this

    Comment number 245.

    239 Arnold 5555

    I'm sure your furniture is delightful. Still waiting for you to give me an example of nutty dogma infesting the educational establishment though. We can talk about your furniture instead if you prefer ... I think you might be on safer ground.

    242: because I at least make some effort to research my posts and don't rely on 'everybody knows' wisdom.

  • rate this

    Comment number 244.

    Mr Gove is sadly ignorant of what the mechanics of education are actually like. As with all things, there are peaks and troughs- a century after compulsory free education, the state machine is understandably gobbling funds due to its size- the same as the NHS - ideals cost money and a world-beating anything costs money - free schools are just manoeuvring the same cash. They won't help; may hinder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 243.

    There may be sufficient school places available in an area where a free school opens, but if those schools are underperforming, then a free school, if it offers a better education, will offer parents choice. I know that is a word hated by the NUT, who fear that might put inadequate teachers out of work, but if it produces a generation of kids who can read, write and add up, why not?

  • rate this

    Comment number 242.


    "What would that be then? Or are you another armchair know- all who can't actually substantiate the drivel he spouts."

    And how are you different?!

  • rate this

    Comment number 241.

    238 aswplease

    Micheal Gove is a typical example of what happens when parents are allowed to 'purchase' a position in society for their less than brilliant offspring, via elitist education....

  • rate this

    Comment number 240.

    There's nothing to free schools that is innovative. They employ staff to teach, using other people's money. That's what other state schools do. Why have they been introduced? I guess, to introduce a tier of schools using tax-payers money that can then easily charge for their services in the future, if they suceed. Seems quite like the majority of polys set up in the 60s

  • rate this

    Comment number 239.

    235 Anglerfish

    I'm sorry you don't approve of my furniture, but I'm not sure that constitutes a sound counter-argument.

  • rate this

    Comment number 238.

    If we could possibly streamline these responses with only those who know what they're talking about contributing...? Oh, and the same for the Government, please...that should cut it all down nicely. Mr Gove, whilst being a difficult man to like, probably has pupils' best interests at heart. Sadly, like so many of us, he is the product of his own upbringing and does not have the expertise he boasts

  • rate this

    Comment number 237.

    There's not enough money in education. All this does is dilute what is available further. What makes you think a well meaning but ultimately clueless local faith leader or whatever will do a better job than a trained professional? Teachers do what they can within a very rigid governmental framework. Until that changes nothing will except the amount of cash thrown at the wrong problem.

  • rate this

    Comment number 236.

    This nonsense is completely undemocratic and like every thing else with this government elected on manifesto's of complete lies, it's all about profit opportunities for unacountable cronies with tax haven registered companies under the guise of local democracy. The great con. Back to the 80's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 235.

    232 Arnold5555

    '... the dogma of the nutty educational establishment.'

    What would that be then? Or are you another armchair know- all who can't actually substantiate the drivel he spouts.

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    We're offered "choice " in many areas.


    I want my service, or utility etc. supplied by a democratically accountable, not-for-profit body, that treats its employees properly and offers them a DB pension, please.


    Oh, I see. I've choices, but not THAT one.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    Free schools are found to be failing in Sweden.

    Why does the government want to privatize police, health and education? Square peg into a round hole?

    The money for free schools has to come from somewhere, my school had its budget cut by £300,000 last year and the same each year - with 1,800 students that's £166.66 less per student per year.

    Clearly the quality of education is going to worsen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    It is free as in free from the delusional dogma of the nutty educationalist establishment.

    Long overdue.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.

    210.Some Lingering Fog or is it troll..

    Welcome back from your dinner break.

    First of all 'steve 204' did not say that

    As ive lived in other countrys English is the second langauge.
    If not Spanish or French.

  • rate this

    Comment number 230.

    The 'free' in 'free schools' is nothing to do with teaching. It's about budgets. It will not change teaching styles except for allowing some idiot headteachers to use (cheap) non teachers.

    There's a big danger they will be schools for religious lunatics, Ned Flanders or Abu Hamza types.

    Hey! If that's what you Tories want - good luck.


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