Free schools: Application forms released

By staff

Parents and community groups will for the first time be able to apply to set up a free school, with application forms now being released by the Department for Education.

The proposal form asks the reasons for setting up the school, its aims, a curriculum outline, evidence of demand and possible locations.

It is the first major step the government has taken to establish the system, a similar version of which operates in Sweden.

Michael Gove, education spokesman, made a statement about the plans earlier today. He spent much of the election campaign promoting the idea, which is popular with many parents but could prove problematic in practise.

“During the course, I think, of the campaigning that we’ve done on this issue, a lot of focus has been, understandably, on parents who are frustrated with the provision of education that they enjoy,” he told the Today programme.

“We want to do everything to extend the choice that parents have, but we’re not talking about placing a burden on individual parents, we’re talking primarily about liberating teachers and other professionals.”

Some groups worry that allowing such schools total freedom from state control could see the introduction of creationist or Biblical teaching, and that Ofsted is ill-prepared to take on the new level of scrutiny demanded of it by the new system.

But proponents of the scheme say many parents, teachers and charities are keen to get started and that schools would only be set up in response to parent demand.

Any group submitting a proposal form now would later have to submit a financial viability form, before suitability tests and criminal record checks.

The first of the schools could be opening as early as September. Shadow education secretary Ed Balls branded them “a free market experiment”.