I wanted to send a quick note to all those that have set up free schools – or are in the process of setting them up – to introduce myself. For the past five years I have been the leader of a multi-academy trust that has set up four free schools, so I know just what hard work it is. I also know how invaluable the advice of New Schools Network is, having worked closely with NSN since 2010. I’m sure many of you have similarly benefited from this fantastic organisation and can understand how excited I am to be taking over the reins.
You may have seen that I have called today for an increase in funding for free schools so NSN can capitalise on the momentum that the programme currently has – we believe that 750 schools open or approved in this parliament is a realistic aim. Alongside this, we will be working hard to expand our support for open and pre-open free schools so that we can offer you more help, should you need it.
Some of you may know me as a journalist and broadcaster who’s been banging the drum for free schools for more than seven years. A few of you might have seen the BBC documentary about my group’s efforts to set up a secondary in West London and, who knows, a handful of you might even have read the short book I wrote called ‘How to set up a free school’ – although judging from the sales figures it can’t have been many!
The schools I’ve been associated with until now have all been of a particular type – set up by parents and teachers, with a knowledge-based curriculum, high standards of behaviour and competitive sport. But that doesn’t mean NSN will just support schools of a similar type. As an organisation, NSN has always been open minded when it comes to different approaches and I have no intention of changing that. NSN will continue to work with teachers, schools, universities, charities, faith groups, arts organisations and sports clubs to set up excellent new schools.
One final point. My own political views are right-of-centre. But in my capacity as Director of NSN, I will be non-partisan. That’s not just because I want NSN to continue working with a broad range of groups and organisation. It’s also because I want free schools to remain a central part of England’s public education system and that is most likely to happen if they command as much political support as possible. NSN has already done some fantastic work in this regard, winning over sceptics on all sides, and that is something I hope to continue.
Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any advice for me or thoughts about additional services NSN could provide. I look forward to working with you in future.
To find out more about Toby's appointment, click here.