++ Any attempt to reintroduce selection should be broader than academic selection ++ ++ Interest in a new generation of university free schools should focus on specialist sixth forms with extra funding awarded for sharing of expertise ++
The New Schools Network today submitted a detailed response to the Government’s Schools That Work for Everyone consultation, setting out a series of practical recommendations.
In particular, we looked at what support would be needed for independent schools and universities seeking to set up new schools and the implications of changing the rules around selective and faith admissions. The following is a summary of our key recommendations:
NSN takes no position on whether the ban on new selective school places should be lifted. However, if it is lifted, we believe the new freedoms shouldn’t just apply to academic selection. At present, schools with certain specialisms are able to set aside 10% of their places for applicants with a particular aptitude for their specialisms. If this 10% cap was lifted, and the range of specialisms schools could select for was increased, we can envisage an assortment of new schools being set up, including replicas of the highly successful BRIT School, schools specialising in particular sports and schools with a focus on a particular performing art, such as dance, music or drama.
NSN believes that any group proposing to set up a new selective school should be able to demonstrate:
- Parental demand for the school;
- Evidence of why the area would benefit from a selective school;
- How selection will work in a way that encourages and supports applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds;
- How the new school will support other schools.
NSN would welcome more independent schools setting up free schools, as well as an expansion of the links between independent schools and the public education system. We think that independent schools should focus on their traditional areas of strength. These include:
- Highly academic sixth forms;
- New state boarding schools;
- All-through schools with sports and performing arts specialisms.
We do not believe that all independent schools will have the capacity or expertise to open new schools, so where independent schools lack the capacity to effectively open a successful new school and cannot afford to offer more bursary places, they should still be required to support the state sector, as many of them already do, but in ways they’re best suited to. This could be through offering:
- Governance expertise;
- Continuing professional development for teachers, especially for high-level subject teaching;
- UCAS and university access advice;
- School fundraising advice.
NSN is supportive of encouraging universities to get more involved in state education, particularly if it means more of them setting up new schools. Universities have already expressed a lot of interest in the free schools programme. At a recent one-day conference for universities interested in setting up free schools, organised by NSN and the University of Birmingham School, around half of England’s 100 or so universities sent representatives.
As with independent schools, we believe universities are best placed to support the state sector in their traditional areas of strength. Successful free schools already set up or sponsored by universities suggest that this could encompass a number of different areas and school types:
- Specialist sixth forms, like the 16-19 maths free school set up by King’s College, London;
- University teaching schools, like the University of Cambridge Primary School;
- Free schools sponsored by arts-based Higher Education Institutions, like the Plymouth School of Creative Arts;
- University Technical Colleges and Studio Schools.
We believe that university-led specialist sixth forms in particular could make a major contribution to the public education system. The existing specialist maths sixth forms (set up by Kings and Exeter) receive additional funding in exchange for sharing their expertise with surrounding schools and we believe this funding should be expanded to other specialist sixth forms, whether linked to universities or independent schools.
NSN supports removing the 50% cap on the number of places faith-designated free schools can set aside for children of their particular faith. We were among the organisations calling for this because the restriction does nothing to guarantee that schools are effectively integrated and prevents some minority faiths from setting up schools. For example, over 85% of Catholic state schools have been ranked good or outstanding by Ofsted, compared to 80% of all schools and 79% of non-religious schools. However, canon law prevents Catholic organisations setting up new schools if they have to observe the 50% cap.
Given that the 50% cap isn’t working, the question is, ‘What better requirements can we impose on faith designated new schools to ensure their pupils build relationships with children from other faiths?’
There are some models of best practice emerging. In particular, there are good examples of faith schools setting up multi-academy trusts that combine faith schools with schools of different faiths or none, such as the Tauheedul Education Trust. The creation of new multi-faith schools – often led by faith organisations – is a trend we would like to encourage.