Education International
Education International

Unaccountable ‘free schools’ are not wanted say teachers

published 4 January 2011 updated 4 January 2011

A survey of British parents conducted by the National Union of Teachers (NUT), an EI affiliate, has found that a majority of new ‘free schools’ being opened in England are not wanted or needed.

A quarter of 1,000 parents said they would support a free school in their area, with 31 per cent against and 43 per cent unsure.

The schools – which are to be set up by groups of parents, charities and faith bodies – will be funded directly by the British government but will be outside local authority control.

The NUT is campaigning against free schools, and the conversion of existing schools to academy status.

Both types of school will be what the Conservative British government calls independent state schools, with more freedom over the curriculum and teachers' pay and conditions. However, teachers employed by them will not need to have formal teaching qualifications.

In September 2010, the government gave provisional approval for 16 free schools to open at the start of the next academic year. Another nine have since been given the go-ahead.

The NUT asked the respected pollsters YouGov to survey more than 1,000 parents in 22 local authority areas across England where free schools are being planned.

When asked which groups should run schools, about half said local authorities, 43 per cent said teachers, 30 per cent said charities, 25 per cent said parents and 15 per cent said private companies – people could specify as many options as they liked.

About half of those questioned said that there was a need for a new school in their area, with the same amount saying there was not. However, 31 per cent said they were against or "tended to be against" a new free school.

The largest proportion of parents were neither for nor against such a school opening locally, or did not know their opinion on the issue.

Most parents questioned (72 per cent) said that they thought any new state-funded school should follow the national curriculum and that children should be taught by qualified teachers (78 per cent).

When asked what impact they thought a free school would have on other schools in their local area, one in five said it would raise standards, while one in four said they did not know.

NUT General Secretary, Christine Blower, said: "This survey clearly shows that parents are not clamouring to set up free schools, have no issue with schools being accountable to the community through democratically elected local authorities, and absolutely reject the premise of their children's education being handed over to private companies.

"Free schools are not wanted or needed. They are divisive and unaccountable. It is time the government stopped playing with the educational future of this country based on nothing more than the fact they can."

Critics have also claimed that the niche schools are expensive to run and will spring up in wealthy areas, draining vital resources from existing schools.

NASUWT General Secretary, Chris Keates, argued the low number of free schools being applied for (25) suggests that the public want good local schools run by democratically accountable local councils.

She added: "The Education Secretary suggests that he wants free schools to be engines of social mobility but in many cases the free schools announced so far will only fragment communities and lead to greater social segregation and separation."