2 September 2015
Commenting on the Prime Minister’s commitment to open 500 new free schools over the next five years, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said:
“The Government seems determined to start the new school term in the manner in which it concluded the last – peddling a series of untruths and misrepresentations about the ideological academy and free school programme. The Prime Minister says he will ‘not waver’. This is despite the growing body of evidence that the Government is pursuing the wrong policies whilst ignoring the very real challenges facing schools.
“The Prime Minister has reiterated his manifesto pledge to open 500 new free schools in this Parliament. It is worth noting that the Government has also recently amended regulations so that any new school will now be legally designated as a ‘free school’ (1). This is clearly to help David Cameron hit his own target. The NUT believes this to be an acknowledgement that most of these schools will not be led by genuine parent or community led groups.
“The reference to ‘streamlining the process’ in the Prime Minister’s announcement is of concern given the highly dubious sponsors that have come forward through the free school route, resulting in the closure of at least three free schools since 2011 and the partial closure of a fourth.
“David Cameron’s claim that free schools are likely to perform better than other schools is ludicrous. Only 136 of the 254 open free schools have to date had a Section 5 inspection - with such a small sample no genuine comparison can be made. The Prime Minister should know better than to bandy around meaningless figures of this sort.
“Furthermore, quoting the Policy Exchange report cuts no ice given that, by their own admission, no causal link could be made between the presence of a free school and the performance of other local schools.
“While the Government continues to play politics with schools in pursuit of its own ideological agenda, schools in the real world are suffering the fall-out from 10% budget cuts in real terms, and a growing teacher crisis as fewer recruits enter the profession and more experienced teachers choose to leave it. The school places crisis has also ballooned on their watch. It is on these matters that the PM should focus his attention.”