Free schools ‘appeal to minorities’

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FREE schools appeal more to parents from minority ethnic communities than white parents, according to a new poll.

The New Schools Network, a charity which supports the creation of free schools, has published new figures which shows that 83 per cent of “black and other minority ethnic” (BME) parents said they would consider sending their child to one compared with 58 per cent of white parents.

BME parents were also said to be more supportive of the idea of free schools.

Free schools have been one of the Government’s flagship policies, with the coalition hailing them as a chance for communities to set up their own parent-led schools.

But since 2011 free schools have also been set up by existing schools, teachers and faith groups, with some private schools even converting to the state system.

The policy allows groups to set up new schools if they can prove to the Department for Education that they have parental demand. Like academies they are autonomous and not part of a local council education authority.

Academies and free schools have great freedom over areas such as the curriculum, timetable and staff pay.

Commenting on the poll’s findings, the New Schools Network’s director, Natalie Evans, said: “Free schools can only be created where they are wanted by parents and our opinion poll reflects what is happening on the ground.

“Free schools have emerged most strongly in neighbourhoods with higher proportions of black and other ethnic minority groups and have proved extremely popular with non-white families. At a primary level, researchers found that white children made up only a third of the free school population, which is less than half the national average in England.

“We know that there is an acute shortage of places in many parts of the country, but this survey confirms that there is also a considerable shortage of good school places full stop.

“With 1.4 million families not able to send their child to their school of first choice, we cannot afford to ignore the case for new schools – both in areas where there is a shortfall of places and in areas where what is currently on offer is falling short.”

Research last month found that free schools have emerged most strongly in neighbourhoods with high proportions of non-white children, compared with the national average.

A report by the Centre for Learning and Life Chances (LLAKES) at the Institute of Education examined the intakes of 88 primary and 63 secondary free schools which had opened by September last year.

It suggested the high number of ethnic minority pupils in free schools was probably linked to the relatively high number of non-Christian faith free schools.

It said that 17 per cent of faith-based free schools were non-Christian at secondary level and at primary school the figure was nine per cent. This is much higher than the national figure for all state faith schools where less than one per cent are non-Christian.

The report also found that, although free schools were opening up in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, they were educating fewer poor children on average.

It also suggested that many of the primary-age youngsters attending free schools have higher levels of previous achievement than the national average .

There are now almost 20 free schools open across Yorkshire. So far only six have been inspected by Ofsted and it has found that half of these require improvement.