Opinion Former Article

NUT: Free Schools: A Cause for Concern

Commenting on research on The Impact of Free Schools on Neighbouring Schools, and the NUT?s legal challenge to Government over its Free Schools policy, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers? union, said:

?The NUT is obtaining Counsel?s opinion on submitting an appeal to the Information Commissioner over the refusal of the Secretary of State for Education to disclose under the Freedom of Information Act copies of the statutory impact assessments that the Secretary of State is required to make when he considers whether or not to approve the opening of free schools. The Union is not convinced that the Secretary of State has applied the law correctly when considering the impact of these new free schools on existing local schools.?

?The Union?s research shows that many of the Free Schools already opened, and those due to open later this year, will have a negative impact on existing local schools.

?In many cases the Government is allowing Free Schools to open regardless of the concerns raised by local authorities, heads, governors and parents. Local Authorities are best placed to assess whether the opening of a Free School, or indeed any school, is necessary. In many cases Free Schools are opening in areas where there are already surplus school places and in others, the new free school will create surplus places leading to unnecessary competition and schools with many places unfilled.

?A significant number of these new schools, opening at vast cost to the taxpayer, are secondary schools when many parts of the country are desperately short of primary places. In Bristol and Wandsworth, for example, the new secondary free schools are adding to the surplus of secondary places while these areas go desperately short of primary places. This is neither a coherent or workable way to organise the country?s education system.

?The Secretary of State is obliged to look at the effect of opening a Free School on those other schools surrounding it. The NUT is not convinced that Michael Gove is carrying out this duty and agrees with Brian Lightman, General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) that the Free Schools policy is immoral.

?Michael Gove has to remember that this is tax payers? money and the education of tax payers? children that he is playing fast and loose with. The Government must be held to account for a policy that is neither needed, wanted, which lacks transparency and which is not even greatly understood?.

                                        END pr45-2012
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