The motion was presented by Greg Hands, the Conservative MP for Chelsea and Fulham. It was great to see the successes of the free school policy highlighted early on, with the MP stating “only 68% of state-funded schools were good or outstanding in 2010, that jumped to 89% at the end of August 2017.” He pointed out that high performing schools in Kensington and Chelsea demonstrated the benefits that free schools and academies bring to the system, but also acknowledged where the policy has faced difficulty, such as problems around finding a suitable site.
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The Swanage School is a shining example of a school that has thrived against the odds. The remote, rural location of Swanage, at the end of the Purbeck peninsular, presents challenges around teacher recruitment and retention. Moreover, the school’s cohort has relatively high levels of deprivation compared with the rest of Dorset. Nevertheless, the school has managed to fill a crucial gap in secondary provision in Swanage, preventing long and difficult travel for pupils to the closest secondary schools in Wareham – 10 miles away.
Before the Spotlight visit, I was adamant I should focus on one area of the packed agenda for this piece, really concentrating on the detail and what other free schools could learn. Upon arrival, it became clear I had been naïve. In the first five minutes, Trust CEO and former Headteacher Nic Brindle explained how year 11 students had built a timber-framed extension on the side of the classroom we’d be using to house design and technology equipment.
The rising demand for school places is on the agenda of all leaders in education. The official estimates from the DfE suggest the school age population will rise by 650,000 to more than 8 million by 2026.
Free schools have been integral in helping meet this rising demand, having created more than 400,000 new school places since 2011. This challenge is also a high priority for the Education Secretary, who recently committed £7 billion of investment for the next decade, and has made assurances that free schools will be central to this.
Nelson Mandela said, “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” When we accept the role of governor and trustee, we assume the mantle of responsibility for the future chances of our children and young people. Good governance matters for this reason.
Multi-academy trusts (MATs) are a driving force behind the free school programme. To this end, NSN has produced a suite of resources aimed at ensuring MATs who are applying to open a free school can structure their governance in the most efficient way. But it’s also worth moving beyond the technical details, and taking a look at some of the reasons why a trust would embark on this process, and what they’d hope to gain from it.
Free Schools in the media
Fifteen young women from Saxmundham Free School are taking part in a debate at the House of Lords on the biggest barriers facing young women today. They will be part of a group of 200 young people taking part. The event is marking the 60th Anniversary of the 1958 Life Peerages Act which enabled women to become members of the House of Lords.