I TEND to share the legitimate concerns raised by Owen Cole’s comments (Observer, August 2) following MP Andrew Tyrie’s endorsement for the creation of a local free school being granted in Chichester.
I am no fan of this current Lib-Con coalition, so resent seeing state education being used as a ‘political vanity exercise’ under Michael Gove’s divisive stewardship. From five-years-olds reciting poetry to older children learning the chronological list of monarchs, troops for teachers, a return to
CSEs – the views of ministers on the kind of knowledge they value is well known in schools.
Any claim that ‘curriculum freedom’ is being granted to schools is tempered by the announcement that five subjects (chosen by ministers) will make up the English Baccalaureate – the new gold standard for school performance.
Michael Gove has already approved three free schools by groups with creationist views, one claiming ‘creation as a scientific theory’ in its curriculum. Heads will not need a headship qualification and teachers in free schools will not even need a teaching qualification – raising concerns about quality and public scrutiny.
In addition, 19 of the coalition’s 24 flagship free schools have taken a lower proportion of pupils with eligibility for free school meals (FSM) than would be expected from an equivalent state-funded school in the same local authority.
Figures from the Department for Education reveal that just four of the 24 free schools that opened last autumn have taken an equal or higher proportion of children eligible for FSMs than the average for state-funded schools with pupils of the same age group across their local area.
With two children in local WSCC primary and secondary schools, one of which is being forced to expand within existing cramped site (as a response to demographic trends), it does not seem really equitable that a free school (using state educational grants) has the ability to find and develop a new site during an age of austerity!
Any parent contemplating moving their children to a free school only needs to study the selection criteria, curriculum content and calibre of teaching staff – to reveal the quality and inclusivity these state-funded ‘free’ schools intend to become.