Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, comments on the Department for Education’s (DfE) announcement that more free schools will open this term.
She said: “New schools opening at the beginning of the school year should not be anything remarkable. It should be a matter of routine that local authorities open new schools, where and when they are needed, as part of a joined up and democratic process to meet the needs of communities. The free schools policy is exactly the opposite of this. It’s a highly centralised, unaccountable, bureaucratic and ultimately ineffective programme that is putting existing schools at risk, creating uncertainty for pupils and further fragmenting our education system.
“Last week the Local Government Association released an analysis of Department for Education figures, which showed that 125,000 children face missing out on a secondary school place by 2022/23. There is an urgent need for school places, which the free school policy is simply failing to deliver.
“The Government’s commitment to the programme flies in the face of all the evidence and is a huge waste of resources. Free schools have opened where new school places are not needed, in many cases having a detrimental impact on existing schools. A total of 19 free schools have closed since the programme began, at huge cost to the taxpayer.
“This latest announcement includes new University Technical Colleges (UTCs) and studio schools. These models of new school have serious failures, with a recent report by the think tank IPPR concluding that they are “failing to meet their own stated aims”. It recommended that no new studio schools should be opened and that the UTC model should be fundamentally reformed.
“The Government should hang its head in shame over its free school policy, which has been an abject failure, even on its own terms. Yet somehow the policy limps on with yet another damp squib of an announcement. The Government must abandon this policy and restore the right of councils to open new schools, while providing them with adequate funding to allow them to do this.”
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Who will be the general secretary of the new union?
Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney are the joint general secretaries of the National Education Union. We will have joint general secretaries until 2023.