Free schools and freeing minds – Toby Young #educationfest


The Free schools movement is gaining traction, and Toby spoke of many independent schools he speaks to who would be keen to start a state funded school such as his ‘West London Free School’. They decide not to, because there is a feeling that Free schools may not survive a change of government… 

Young talked of his involvement with Free Schools, and the fact that many people contact him about setting them up. He appeared to frame the movement as cohesive rather than concentrating on the specific falvours of free schools set up acording to local need, and came across as being pro Free Schools as a broad church. 

“Free Schools are Labour’s invention.”

– Lord Adonis

The movement has arisen in many ways from Labour policy of academising schools, and cited a recent speech by Twigg which he feels is an attempt to shift the party towards the right on this issue. In a BBC interview clip shown, Twigg asserted that a Labour government would ‘absaloutely not’ close down free schools if they came to power. However, in the same interview he rasied concerns at the funding given to the movement when there is such a shortage of primary school places. 

This argument of siphoning money from existing schools in need to Free Schools is often used by the left, Young said, but he argued that we actually do need many new school places and that they are an economical way to do it, especially if sited in existing buildings rather than the new build academies which were being built under Labour.

Independence is built into the Free School funding agreements, and any secretary of state wishing to terminate a funding agreement must give seven years notice. This could be bypassed if results of two successive Ofsted inspections changed. His worry was that the Ofsted criteria could be changed in order to target these schools.

He talked of wanting to explore letting free schools have the option to purchase their own buildings. This would give them the bargaining possibility to threaten to go independent if their values are threatened. This would mean they could threaten to ‘overnight’ remove hundereds of state funded school places from the area they are in. He stated it was not his intention to do this, but that to be able to threaten it, and threaten to remove provision from large numbers of young people unless they paid fees would be a useful tool to proect Free Schools.

He ended on a short caveat, they should be making their policies based on the needs of the learners not just to gain political advantage. When questioned by an audience member about this he reiterated that doing the core job well is best weapon against a hostile Secretary of State; satisfied parents will not let a school be closed.

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TechHeads Education Startups #educationfest

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