The UK Government has recently announced that 102 prospective free schools have been given the go-ahead for 2013. It displays an increase in the adoption of this particular government initiative and so it is perhaps an appropriate time to look at what this means for the landscape of the English schools system.
Now in its third year, the initiative is certainly becoming more popular. The approval system had given permission to 65 schools last year, of which 50 will open this September (2012). The first batch of pioneers in September 2011, however, only consisted of 24.
Who is Setting Them Up?
Of the 102 new free schools eligible for 2013 there is a mixture as to who is/will be behind their establishment. They are all being set up by either those in the education profession already or local communities but the full break down is as follows:
59: Existing education professionals; including teachers, headteachers, educational organisations, existing schools and universities, of which:
5 are private schools converting to free schools to access public funding
2 are backed by universities
43: Local community groups; including charities and, parent groups
What Are They?
The majority of free schools being approved will be defined as mainstream schools, however there are a number of specialist schools being set up alongside these, as would be expected due to the remit of free schools to satisfy particular local education needs. The schools can be defined as:
85 mainstream schools, of which,
40 are primary
28 are secondary
10 are all through (primary and secondary)
5 are for 16-19 year olds
1 is for 14-19 year olds
1 is for 5-7 year olds (i.e., reception school)
12 alternative provision schools for those who are unable to attend mainstream schools
5 special schools
2 are all through
1 is primary
1 is secondary
1 is for 14-19 year olds
Perhaps most controversially for the opponents of free schools in particular:
33 are religious schools, of which,
20 are faith schools which will be permitted a degree of selectivity in their admissions based upon religious beliefs
The relatively high proportion of religious schools in the mix can be seen to bear out the concerns that religious groups will be more able and more likely to set up free schools. The belief is that this results from the fact that they are likely to already have access to the infrastructure as well as the organisational structure they need to get them up and running, in contrast to private individuals attempting to form organisations themselves from scratch.
Where Are They?
The largest concentration of schools will be in London (34, 1 in 3), followed by the South East and North West. Although one of their aims is to improve the education possibilities in particularly deprived areas, the North East only has 3 opening despite its higher than average levels of depravity. Interestingly there are pockets of the country where there are no new free schools opening at all such as in: the southern counties of Wilts, Dorset, Somerset & Hampshire (including the Isle of Wight); the central midlands (around Warwickshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire etc); South Yorkshire down into Derbyshire; North Yorkshire across into Cumbria.
The full breakdown by region is:
34 (33%) - London
16 (16%) - South East
12 (12%) - North West
10 (10%) - East of England
9 (9%) - South West
7 (7%) - West Midlands
7 (7%) - Yorkshire and Humber
4 (4%) - East Midlands
3 (3%) - North East
The DfE's own research suggests that the Independence awarded to Academy schools in general is yielding dividends with their results seeming to outstrip the rest of the sector whilst the success of their US counterparts in New York also bodes well. However time will tell whether these burgeoning free schools can continue that success and fulfil their remit to plug the specific social and educational gaps in their local areas.