Gazette Article 20: “Every school is equal – well, that is until it is a free school”

It has been enjoyable over the past week or so to read the national, and local, press coverage about the television series featuring Brentwood County High School head teacher Stephen Drew that started this week.

Drew For BoysWhat I appreciated most was the central message of inclusivity that the series appears to be based on. That, despite the temptation to exclude “difficult” children in these days of league tables and other such nonsense, schools should do all they can to ensure every child is given as great an opportunity as possible to succeed.

Crucially, the state should support them to do so. Sadly, the opposite is true.

When this government outlined their plans to extend academy status to as many schools as possible, and introduce new “free schools”, we were told that this was to give more children from less privileged backgrounds access to a good education.

Free schools would only be opened where places were scarce and, Nick Clegg told us, largely in “deprived areas”. We don’t get this line any more of course because four years on the reality has been very different.

This was never better illustrated than in one of two front page stories in the national press in the past month.

Firstly it was reported that Michael Gove had given the go ahead for a sixth form free school in Westminster that will cost £45M to implement. Not only is this an obscene expense in a time of austerity measures, but this will only benefit a maximum of 600 children at a time.

Worst of all, it will be selective. Students who have clearly been well served by their state school up to that point will have to sit an entrance exam to gain access.

My attititude on this issue has hardened over the past couple of years. No state funded school should be able to choose its intake.

In my view, this is indicative of a very regretable increase in selection, either overt or covert, over recent years. If we are all paying for these schools shouldn’t all of our children have access to similar facilities, resources and well maintained buildings?

Instead, new schools are being given preferential funding for their first two years while their neighbours resources are being cut.

Unfortunately, in the case of the free school policy, Mr Gove has not been able to point to sufficient evidence of success for this unequal allocation of state funds as many new school initial Ofsted reports have been less than flattering.

Rather than pause and reflect, he chooses to plough on with more new ventures and, as The Observer revealed on their front page, give preferential treatment to free schools by using DfE resource to prepare them for Ofsted visits and intervene if necessary to stop any more “bad news stories”.

Rather than make the accountability system unequal too, I would urge him to instead support our existing schools and engage actual education experts to see how best to provide as good an education for the many as possible rather than unequally invest in a chosen few.

I’m sure Mr Drew could suggest a few people to speak to.

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