The criticism of the Conservatives' free schools policy seems to have coalesced around three issues: the first is funding; the second the claim that only middle class parents will have the capacity to set up schools; and the third that efforts should be focused on improving existing schools. These are wrong on every count.
Of course, there will be practical difficulties in setting up free schools, finding premises, and developing a fair funding formula - but just because some things are difficult does not mean they are not worth doing.
The reality is that we now have a centralised education system that is monstrously bureaucratic and expensive. Local authorities spend huge amounts of time and resources collecting data about schools, very little of it relevant to children’s education. They are then required to interfere more and more in the running of schools when they are not equipped to do so. This is costly and ineffective. It is also diverting authorities from the tasks only they can do – admissions and special needs provision.
It is clear that even a small reduction in the endless data collection, form filling, inspection and attendant bureaucracy could free up additional funding. That is not even taking into account the costs of the central bureaucracy in the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the government’s regional offices. The resources are there, they just need directing to the right places: schools.