Will Free Schools help to raise standards of education for our children?

Free Schools are all-ability state-funded schools set up in response to what local people say they want and need in order to improve education for children in their community. What will their impact be and will they help to raise standards?

The most important thing for any parent is to be able to send their child to a good local school, with high standards and strong discipline. That is why we are opening Free Schools across the country. Too many children are being failed by fundamental flaws in our education system. The weakest schools are concentrated in our poorest towns and cities, and we are plummeting down the international education league tables.
In spite of years of investment, the situation is worsening. Children from disadvantaged homes are still falling behind. A change of approach is vital. By freeing up teachers and trusting local communities to decide what is best, our reforms will help to raise standards for children in all schools.

Michael Gove, Education Secretary

The Maharishi School has a track record built up over 25 years, demonstrating high achievement for all pupils. As evidence of demand the school is oversubscribed with families delighted to be able to send their children to such a prestigious school.  In order for all the pupils to practice Transcendental Meditation as part of the school curriculum, they are being taught Transcendental Meditation for free with the fee for learning being met from a charitable trust. (Parents have to pay to learn Transcendental Meditation). Families are commenting upon the good effect that learning Transcendental Meditation has had on their home life.  The Maharishi School is therefore able to offer a proven, innovative approach to education to everyone completely free.  Consciousness-based Education develops not only every pupil’s ability to learn but also their creativity and intelligence.  This provides a profound basis not only for success at school but also beyond school.

Derek Cassells, headteacher Maharishi School, Lancashire

Free schools are an interesting development and yes given the support they have had from government, they may well help to raise standards but don’t let’s pretend they are anything more than an addition to the current educational landscape and will only impact on a few. They will not and cannot solve the problems of social mobility well documented elsewhere. Schools do not exist in a vacuum, rather they reflect our society and they are not operating on an even playing field. Increased competition in a global society requires us to equip all our young people with the knowledge, skills and self-belief to thrive and make a contribution. What is the government doing about this? What will be the success criteria for free schools……. their place in the league tables or the production of well-rounded global citizens? Are ‘free schools’ truly representative of their local community. And finally what will be the impact on other schools that have not been given the same freedoms or support?

Sylvia Walker, Learning & Development Consultant

The coalition government’s flagship Free Schools take in their first pupils this month. Supporters claim they will raise standards by allowing a more flexible curriculum and giving parents more say in their children’s education; critics say they will offer a narrow education, whilst drawing limited resources away from other local schools simply to benefit ‘pushy’, middle class parents. Although international evidence suggests that increased autonomy for schools is generally beneficial, the most successful education systems also involve a strong network of support, with a focus on cooperation (rather than competition) between schools. Consequently, the Free Schools policy could potentially have a detrimental impact on the overall level of education provision across a community. More importantly, research and experience tell us that the type of school is less important than the quality of teaching the children will receive. With free schools having the ability to employ unqualified teachers, time will tell whether this approach allows more creativity in teaching methods, or leads to a fall in standards.  Free Schools might perhaps help raise standards for their pupils, but our real focus should be on ensuring that every child has access to the highest quality of teaching, regardless of which school they attend.

Phil Rigby, Head Of Secondary Education, Edge Hill University

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