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Today's Free Schools announcement by Michael Gove proves his radical preparation for Government

Scroll down for the Noon update.


Michael Gove 2010 smilingMichael Gove will announce later today how teachers can set up Free Schools.  The Times reports here that hundreds of teachers will apply to run them - and that the New Schools Network claims the number of organisations wanting to set up Free Schools has risen by two-thirds since the election.

Gove said earlier this morning on the Today programme that many of the groups interested in setting up Free Schools are specifically interested in helping poorer children.  "Their idealism is devoted towards making sure that the attainment gap in this country between rich and poor children is closed," he said.

This stress on social justice, enshrined in the "pupil premium" which will support children from poorer families, is at the heart of Gove's strategy.  He plans to kick-start reform at the top and the bottom of the system.  At the top, by encouraging the best-performing schools to become Academies.  At the bottom, by opening up the system to Free Schools - that is, to independent state schools run by teachers not bureaucrats, and accountable to parents.

I attended some of Gove's meetings near the end of the last Parliament.  He was formidably prepared for Government, and his mastery of detail was impressive. He'd grasped that only parents, teachers, community groups, charities and all the "little platoons" of the Big Society can make Free Schools happen.  The independent New Schools Network, set up to help make the scheme happen, will be essential to its fortunes.

Tim believes that Gove's plans and Iain Duncan Smith's welfare reforms are two big reasons to have confidence in the Coalition.  I'd add Eric Pickles' localism push, about which I hope to write more soon.  All in all, Free Schools is the Government's flagship reform policy, and plenty of vested interests want to sink it below the water-line. Screwing enough cash from the Treasury is vital to keeping it afloat and on course. Parents and children, not least poorer ones, will be hoping that Gove succeeds.

Paul Goodman

Noon update:

Further details have now been released from the Department for Education as to how the application process for Free Schools will operate. The key points are:

  • A proposal form has been published for interested groups to fill out, covering the aims and objectives of the new school; the main people and organisations involved in the project; evidence of parental demand for a new school; an outline of the curriculum and their teaching methods; and possible premises that have been considered.
  • All applicants for will be thoroughly checked for their suitability to run a school as part of the approval process, with the Education Secretary rejecting "any proposers who advocate violence, intolerance, hatred or whose ideology runs counter to the UK’s democratic values". They will also have to "comply with all aspects of rigorous suitability and vetting tests throughout the application process including due diligence and CRB checks". 
  • Successful applicants will later have to complete a full business plan including setting out the school’s financial viability.
  • The Government has announced that a wider range of sites - including residential and commercial property - will be able to be used as schools without the need for “change of use” consent, with an extension of powers to ensure that existing schools sites are kept available for use by new schools where there is demand.
  • Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will update guidelines to local planning authorities to make it clear there is a presumption in favour of setting up of new schools.
  • £50 million of funding from the Harnessing Technology Grant has been re-allocated to create a Standards and Diversity Fund to provide capital funding for Free Schools up to 31 March 2011.
  • A formal relationship has been established with the New Schools Network (with £500,000 of initial funding to help make sure groups across the country get the support they need to start forming schools) which will act as the first point of contact for all groups who wish to start schools, providing them with information as they go through the process and prepare their proposals.

There is much more information on the Department for education website, including details of the process of setting up a Free School and a full set of FAQs.

Jonathan Isaby


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