THE NEW wave of flagship free schools should not be run for profit and must be opened in poorer areas or those “crying out” for extra places, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said yesterday.
The Liberal Democrat leader said the new schools, opening for the first time this week, must be available to all children and not just a “privileged few”.
Free schools are a key education reform of the Government which is encouraging parents, teachers and community groups to apply to set up their own state-funded schools from scratch if they are unhappy with the choice of local schools. Yorkshire is at the forefront of the movement with three opening this term and 28 applications having been made from the region to open schools in 2012.
Batley Grammar opens its doors as a free school tomorrow having converted from the private sector while a new secondary school, the King’s Science Academy and the new Rainbow Primary are both being launched in Bradford next week. Nationally 24 free schools will open this term.
Mr Clegg said free schools would be acceptable only if they reduce social segregation. He called on Education Secretary Michael Gove to ensure the next wave of free schools for 2012, to be announced within weeks, were only opened in deprived communities or those with a shortage of places.
The Sheffield Hallam MP also insisted that he will never allow schools within the state sector to be run for profit. The free schools policy is seen as a Tory strand of the coalition agreement, with Lib Dem activists voting against it at their party conference last year over concerns that it would be socially divisive.
The Yorkshire Post reported yesterday that Bradford East Lib Dem MP David Ward had criticised the coalition for refusing to reveal how much is to be spent launching the first free schools in the region. He accused the Government of focusing on a “pet project” of Mr Gove while other schools in Bradford were left with repair bills of more than £50m.
Mr Clegg acknowledged yesterday that the policy carried risks.
But he added: “I am confident we have mitigated those risks to make sure this is now a policy which will promote higher standards, better integration and fairer chances especially for children from the most deprived backgrounds. Let me be clear what I want to see from free schools. I want them to be available to the whole community – open to all children and not just the privileged few. I want them to be part of a school system that releases opportunity, rather than entrenching it.
“They must not be the preserve of the privileged few – creaming off the best pupils while leaving the rest to fend for themselves, causing problems for and draining resources from other nearby schools. So let me give you my assurance: I would never tolerate that. The coalition has made it clear that our over-riding social policy objective is improving social mobility, reducing social segregation, making sure what counts in our society are ability and drive, not privilege and good connections.”
Rejecting suggestions that private companies could run free schools for profit, the Lib Dem leader said: “To anyone who is worried that, by expanding the mix of providers in our education system, we are inching towards inserting the profit motive into our school system – again, let me reassure you: yes to greater diversity; yes to more choice for parents; but no to running schools for profit, not in our state-funded education sector.”
A bid to open a free school in Manvers, Rotherham next year has been unsuccessful, David Mann, the chairman of the Three Valleys Independent Academy plan announced yesterday.
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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