102 proposed free schools have been given the go-ahead by the Department for Education to move towards opening in September 2013. One of them, Sir Thomas Fremantle Secondary School, is on our doorstep in North Bucks. A number of parents have asked, as a result of this announcement, what exactly is a free school?
Free schools are set up by local groups of teachers, parents, charities and educational experts with a collective passion for education and a joint vision to make a contribution to the local community. State-funded, not for profit, non-selective and free for parents, some free schools focus on maths, science, music or are faith schools, whilst others offer an extended day, with a wide range of extra-curricular activities. Like academies, free schools are outside council control, resulting in heads having more control over the curriculum, teacher recruitment, term dates and the school day.
Without being critical of the current provision, free schools look to enhance state school choices within local communities, offering an alternative to compliment the current provision. Government theory behind this initiative is that more parental choice and hence competition for pupils will drive up school standards and accountability to parents, across the board. Critics say they will damage other schools by taking away pupils and resources, to the detriment of the state school system overall.
Inspected by Ofsted, free schools are subjected to rigorous accountability with regard to excellence in leadership and teaching standards. In current times of austerity, proposers are encouraged to explore surplus or under-utilised government and other public buildings, as potential sites for their planned school.