Increase In Number Of Free Schools
The Parliamentary Information Office has been monitoring progress in Government policy
relating to education, particularly relating to the plurality of our system and continues to
report on changes as they occur
The Government yesterday announced that 55 new Free Schools will open this September. The
first 24 Free Schools opened in September 2011 while a further 114 have been approved to
open in 2013 and beyond.
Free Schools aim to achieve higher standards and offer a genuine alternative. They are funded
by the Government but have greater freedoms than local authority-run schools. They are run by
teachers – not local councils or Westminster politicians – and have freedom over the length of
the school day and term, the curriculum and how they spend their money.
Independent state schools have existed for several decades. In the 1980s, City Technology
Colleges were established in deprived areas. In the 1990s, existing state schools were given
more freedom and independence under the status of Grant Maintained schools. In 2000,
Academies were established – like City Technology Colleges, they are independent state
schools in deprived areas, with sponsors from business and education. In 2005 the Prime
Minister, Tony Blair, expanded the Academy programme, citing charter schools in the United
States and Free Schools in Sweden as a model for the UK.
The schools opening this month include:
Dixon’s Music Primary Academy, in Bradford, which is the first specialist music primary
school in England.
Everton in the Community Free School, on Merseyside. The alternative provision school is
being run by Everton Football Club and will cater for pupils aged 14 to 19 not in mainstream
Bilingual Primary School, in Brighton & Hove, will be the first bilingual Free School in
England, specialising in English and Spanish.
School 21, in Newham, east London, is a teacher-led all-through Free School, including a
sixth-form, in an area of significant deprivation. One of the founder members, and the
executive head teacher, is Peter Hyman, previously a speech-writer for ex-Prime Minister
Rosewood Special Free School, in Southampton. A special school for children who have
Profound and Multiple Learning Disabilities.
Tiger Primary School, in Maidstone, Kent, where all children will learn Mandarin and a
Perry Beeches II The Free School, in Birmingham, is a new 11-18 Free School set up by an
existing outstanding secondary school, Perry Beeches The Academy. The academy’s head,
Liam Nolan, turned round the school’s performance from 21 per cent of pupils achieving five
A*-C GCSEs including English and maths in 2007 to 77 per cent this year.
London Academy of Excellence, in Newham, east London. This is a sixth-form Free School
which is being run by eight leading independent schools including Brighton College and Eton
Of the new Free Schools opening this September, 19 are primary schools, 19 are secondary
schools and seven are all-age schools. There is one 14-19 school and one 16-19 school. Five
are alternative provision schools – the first Free Schools of their type – and three are special
The schools are spread across England. They are primarily concentrated in areas of deprivation
or areas where there is a shortage of school places. 25 of the 55 schools are located in the most
deprived 25 per cent of communities in the country. 33 of the schools are in areas where there is
need for more school places.
12 have been set up by teachers, 19 by parent or community groups, 9 by charities and 13 are
set up by existing education providers. Two existing independent schools will join the state sector
as Free Schools.
Groups that were successful in applying to open a Free School went through a robust process to
make sure they were suitable and capable to run a school. They had to:
provide evidence of demand for the particular new local school they wanted to set up;
set out in detail the curriculum the school would offer, the type of teachers it would recruit,
and how the school would run its pupil admissions to make sure they are fair;
develop robust plans for how the school planned to run its finances (which then were
scrutinised to make sure the school was financially viable);
secure an appropriate site for the school that provided value for money for the taxpayer; and
be CRB checked and undergo in-depth vetting by the Department’s Due Diligence Unit.
Like other state-funded schools, Free Schools are inspected by Ofsted, will have their exam and
test results published and will have to teach a broad and balanced curriculum. Action will be
taken if results slip or if teaching isn’t up to scratch. Free Schools also have to abide by the same
rules for pupil admissions as other schools – making sure that these are fair and inclusive of
children from different backgrounds.
Education Secretary Michael Gove said:
“Every child should have the choice to go to an excellent local school. These new schools have
been set up by idealistic people who are determined to give parents the kind of choice that only
the rich can currently afford. The first 24 Free Schools are enormously popular and I expect this
second wave to be equally successful.”
Liam Nolan, executive head teacher of Perry Beeches II, Birmingham, said:
“This is a fabulous opportunity for us to expand our brand of success into a new community and
to work with a new group of young people in the heart of Birmingham. This is one of the beauties
of Free Schools, that the very best schools can extend their outstanding practice.”
Marina Gutierrez, Chair of the Bilingual Primary School Trust, Brighton, said:
“I am delighted that this project has now become a reality and that Brighton & Hove's children will
have bilingualism as an educational choice.”
Free Schools have proved hugely popular with parents. All 24 which opened last year have filled,
or almost filled, all their places for this year. Many have expanded to meet demand and many
have large waiting lists.
New York Charter Schools, one of the inspirations behind Free Schools, have been shown to
substantially narrow the attainment gap between rich and poor – by 86 per cent in maths and 66
per cent in English. In Chicago they halve the achievement gap between inner-city students and
their wealthier suburban counterparts.
In England academies, which have the same freedoms as Free Schools, improve at a faster rate
to state secondary schools – between 2010 and 2011 the proportion of pupils achieving five or
more GCSEs at A* to C including English and maths rose by 5.7 per cent in academies,
compared to 3.1 per cent in state secondary schools.
The Parliamentary Information Office will continue to report on free school development as we go
through the months ahead.
4th September 2012