Free school is misnomer

I AM writing in response to A Laughton's excellent letter in last week's Spenborough Guardian on the subject of Michael Gove's recent announcement that he wishes to see a number of additional 'free schools' opening across the country, in response to parent demand, including a school in Birkenshaw.

Friday, 2nd July 2010, 10:57 am

We should expose the duplicity in using the term 'free school' as this implies something extra, at no expense, when such schools would be financed from the current local authority budget.

I believe every child should have access to high quality education at a good school. For that reason I respect the Birkenshaw Parents' Alliance aspiration for their children to have the best possible chance in life; that's what every parent wants for their child.

However, I also feel very strongly that it is the government, the council and schools' responsibility to ensure that educational excellence and opportunity should be available to all children. My concern with the government's support for 'free schools' is that it amounts to providing extra schools for some, at the expense of others.

There is a finite pot of money for education and additional schools can only be created by reducing the share of resources to existing schools and this isn't a recipe for driving up standards for all children.

In March Professor David Woods, a leading educationalist, produced a report on the proposal to set up a new school in Birkenshaw and rejected it because 'the local authority has planned for sufficient pupil places, including a working level of surplus.

A new school at Birkenshaw would result in an unacceptably high level of surplus places – which represents a poor use of resources, and the extra costs, both revenue and capital, would necessarily reduce available spending for other schools to the detriment of the educational experience of other young people'.

Professor Woods points out the council is clear that the proposal would damage its diversity strategy and it would undermine the viability of other schools in the area.

I find it quite astonishing that, at a time when the government talks of making significant savings on educational expenditure and say they may freeze or scrap the Building Schools for the Future refurbishment programme for schools, in the same breath they make a commitment to create new schools in selected areas at public expense.

It is right and proper to look closely at how well our schools serve our communities and their youngsters, but surely we want a focus on making every school better and not just for the favoured few.