The NUT is campaigning for a coherent and locally accountable education system with a good school for every child. Free schools undermine this because decisions on whether to set up a free school are taken by the Education Secretary, not by local councils.
The NUT believes that the Government should end approvals for free schools and give all schools the right to return to the status of maintained schools.
Free schools are a type of academy first introduced under the previous Coalition Government. They are mainly new schools which are funded by and directly accountable to the Department for Education (DfE), rather than the local council.
Any “suitable sponsor" can apply to the Education Secretary for approval to open a free school including private businesses and academy chains. Private schools can also apply to convert to free school status to access state funding.
Free schools have created chaos in school place planning and supply, with many opening where there is no need for new school places. A National Audit Office (NAO) report into capital funding for schools published in February 2017 highlighted this waste. According to the NAO, the DfE estimates that half (57,500) of the 113,500 new places in mainstream free schools opening between 2015 and 2021 will create spare capacity. This spare capacity will destabilise and undermine existing schools and is also a wasteful diversion of funds that could otherwise be used to provide school places where they are really needed.
The NUT has also published research which shows that £138.5 million has been spent on free schools, university technical colleges and studio schools which closed, partially closed or did not open. In these cases usually it is local authorities who have had to pick up the pieces by finding alternative places for the displaced children.
Read the NUT’s EduFact on the school places crisis.
Like academies, free schools have the same freedoms to set their own pay, conditions and working time arrangements. This flexibility undermines the national pay and conditions framework for teachers as well as local collective agreements. Read the NUT’s guidance on pay and conditions in academies here.