It is very disappointing that the Chancellor has overlooked a new free school wave in the Spending Review.

At the election less than a year ago, the Government made a promise to ‘level up’ opportunity across the country and address the inequalities in access to, and quality of, critical infrastructure in many communities – particularly across the north and midlands. Many of these areas have some of the highest deprivation levels and lowest educational outcomes, with the average Progress 8 score across northern regions -0.21 compared with +0.22 in London.

Over the past decade, we have seen the transformative impact of free schools in communities just like these: they are the highest performing type of state school at GCSE and A level, and are more likely to be rated Outstanding by Ofsted. It is astounding the Government has failed to recognise the impact free schools could have for so many more families, especially in those areas, and is yet another example of decision makers leaving behind the most disadvantaged.

This spending review contained multiple infrastructure commitments, but as the attainment gap continues to widen throughout the pandemic, it is deeply disappointing that one core element of sector recovery – more schools to drive up standards, avoid ballooning class sizes and increasing aspiration for disadvantaged pupils – has been disregarded. Our Priorities for the Spending Review provided clear, practical decisions that would kick-start the next chapter for the free schools programme, and I am grateful to the scores of MPs that have reached out to NSN in recent months to pledge their commitment to ensuring the manifesto commitment to open more free schools is met.

Though the economic challenges caused by the pandemic are huge, it is incredibly disappointing that less than a year since this Government was elected with a mandate to redress the deep inequalities faced by many families, steps have not been taken to act on that promise, or the long-term impact the pandemic will have on the life chances of thousands of children.

The crucial role schools play in communities has been clear throughout this year, and we have been heartened to hear from so many parents, teachers, charities and other groups that have been inspired to find out more about setting up a free school to provide something different and something better for children in their local area. A new wave of free schools would have gone some way in addressing the inequalities that have been exacerbated in the wake of coronavirus, and ‘levelling up’ opportunity as true drivers of social mobility.

NSN is committed to making sure this is recognised by Government, and that all those families that aspire to send their children to good local state schools do not do so in vain. We will continue to work with communities across the country to ensure all children, irrespective of their background, have access to a good school and the opportunities they deserve.

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