Government approves 22 free schools; NEU responds

The education secretary has approved 22 new free schools, and the NEU has responded to this ‘harmful’ news

Damian Hinds, the education secretary, has approved 22 new free schools.

The schools will create an additional 19,000 places and bring the number of free schools in the country from 285 to 440.

The promise is part of the government’s pledge to create one million more school places by 2020.

The National Education Union (NEU) has responded to this news with scepticism. Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary, said:

“After nine years of this failed policy, the government’s claims about the successes of the free schools project ring hollow.

“Five per cent of all free schools that have opened since 2010 have either closed completely or been transferred to different academy trusts, while more than 40 approved projects have not opened at all.

“This is a massive waste of resources and money, but we must remember that the closure of a school has a huge impact on families and staff and it is the local authority that has to pick up the pieces.

“The harmful effects of the policy do not end there. The opening of free schools has been shown to harm neighbouring schools in areas where there is no shortage of places, and hence their funding.

“There is absolutely no logic in allowing free schools to open in areas where there are already enough school places while shortages exist in other areas.

“Free schools also exacerbate and reproduce inequalities in the education system – their intakes are more affluent than the average for the neighbourhoods in which they are based.

“This is particularly the case for primary free schools, which tend to recruit students with above-average prior attainment.

“No amount of bluster about free schools raising standards or driving innovation can mask the truth. The free schools project is now a vehicle for big academy chains to open new schools wherever they choose and without any regard to the impact on pupils or their families in neighbouring schools.

“Seven chains announcing new schools today have already opened 10 or more schools.

“As the National Foundation for Educational Research and the Sutton Trust concluded in their study last year, free schools are failing to fulfil the programme’s stated aim of offering innovative and parent-led approaches.

“Instead, they are merely an ideological vehicle for the Conservatives’ failed education policies.”

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