Newham sixth form confirms ‘wildest dreams’ for free school movement
PUBLISHED: 12:02 04 September 2015 | UPDATED: 12:15 04 September 2015
It’s the controversial policy which has divided the nation – but that didn’t stop the government vowing to open 500 new free schools by 2020.
On the day prime minister David Cameron announced the latest wave to be approved, schools minister Nick Gibb visited the first to appear in Newham.
The London Academy of Excellence opened in 2012 and was set up by five independent schools, including £33,000 a year Eton college.
It runs in line with the Tory vision to operate autonomously outside of local authority control and lets headteachers establish their own educational practice.
But why did the minister decide to drop in on the Stratford school and has the High Road experiment been a success story so far?
“This school is an example of what we hoped in our wildest dreams would come out of the free school movement,” Mr Gibb said during the visit on Wednesday, September 2.
“I’d heard a lot about it and I know it’s been very successful. It’s already sent over 100 people to Russell group universities.
“The autonomy is a key driver. It gives young people opportunities that weren’t there before.”
The MP for Bognor Regis insists the country needs more free schools.
They are not bound by educational orthodoxies required by some local authorities, he adds.
“It’s clear to see this borough values education,” the minister tells me after observing a year 13 science lesson.
“Newham achieves highly despite the number eligible for free school meals being above average.”
But the Tory ambition has attracted its fair share of finger-wagging with Labour and teachers’ unions the chief critics of the scheme.
Some fear the move could spell the end of state-provided education as well as segregate and fragment communities.
Peter Smith, Newham Teachers Association (NTA) divisional secretary, tarnished the scheme “politically driven.”
He said: “We believe all pupils should be taught by qualified teachers which would be delivered through local authority maintained schools.
“I’d like someone to provide us with evidence showing how [free schools] work.
“There’s no requirement to have qualified teachers work at them which is really dangerous.”
However, Gibb insists the vetting process is rigorous and Ofsted examines any groups which get their application accepted.
He said if problems arise they take action and quickly close down the school.
So, could the scheme spell the end for local authority run schools?
“Local authorities will always have a significant role in education by making sure every child has a place,” Gibb said.
“But I would like to see an increasing number of academies. We think the way forward is to give schools autonomy, for each to be run as the individual school sees fit.”