Headteachers, parents and councillors are warning that a plan to open a Free School in the Stroud area is very likely to result in the closure of 2 or 3 primary schools and a secondary school
A plan to open a Free school for 600 pupils (4-16 year olds) is being submitted to the Government. It’s likely to be in the Stroud/Nailsworth area - if the plan is accepted, it will start to take primary school children in September 2015.
Normally a new school is set up because more places are needed. But the opposite is true here: local schools have too many places. The number of school age children over the next 5 years is low (because birth rates go up and down) - with 600 surplus places in Stroud area. If 600 children leave existing schools and go to the Free School, we’ll have 1,200 surplus places. Some schools will have so few pupils left they won’t be financially viable.
A Free School is supposed to be set up if local people say it’s wanted and needed to improve education. There’s no evidence of a need to improve performance of local schools & little evidence that local people really want or need this school.
Free schools take money and pupils from existing schools and they are not democratically accountable
“I have grave concerns about the cost to local communities if this plan goes ahead. It’s not just the millions of pounds to set the school up when it’s not needed, but the threat of closure to some terrific village schools. I know what those schools mean to their communities - and how devastating it will be if they close,” says David Drew, former MP for Stroud.
Why we should think twice about supporting a Free School in Stroud
- The Free School will be funded by taxpayers. Money is tight - so why spend millions on a Free School that’s not needed? (and parental satisfaction with local schools is high - why set up another?)
- Free Schools don’t have to use qualified teachers or meet the same standards and test results as ordinary schools. Will this put pupil achievements at risk? Should all schools meet certain standards?
- Stroud doesn’t need extra school places - we have 600 unfilled school places over 5 years. There IS a shortage of school places in Gloucester and Cheltenham - setting up a school there makes more sense.
- 3 or 4 schools could close if the Free School opens, including village schools. Smaller schools play an important role in rural communities - closure would be devastating.
- A local secondary school is likely to close too. (And the Free School is a Steiner school, so if it takes pupils from Wynstones, that’s also at risk).
- Steiner Education is already available in this area through the private sector - is it right to use taxpayers’ money to create this free school?
If you share our concerns - what can you do?
Please write with your concerns to Neil Carmichael MP and to Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education - where the decision to give the new Free School a licence will be made (use the points on the back page to help you write the letter). You could also ask Mr Carmichael for an appointment to discuss the plans.
If you want to know more, or to talk to anyone about what’s happening, contact Chris Minett by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to 5a Lansdown, Stroud GL5 1BB
What is a Free School?
The Department for Education says:
“Free schools are all-ability state-funded schools set up in response to what local people say they want and need in order to improve education for children in their community.”
A free school is funded by taxpayers, free to attend, but not controlled by the local education authority (Gloucestershire County Council) as most local schools have been up to now. They were introduced by the Coalition Government, an idea based on schools in other countries such as Sweden and New Zealand. The Academies Act 2010 authorised the creation of free schools and allows all existing state schools to become academy schools.
Parents, teachers, charities and businesses apply to set up their own schools, which are governed by non-profit charitable trusts rather than a team of School Governors representing the local community. They have to follow the usual School Admissions Code of Practice (though they can give priority to founders' children). They make an application to the Department for Education rather than the Council. The school gets a start-up grant to get going plus funds in the same way as other state maintained schools.
Free Schools can set their own pay and conditions for staff; employ unqualified teachers; decide their own curriculum; set the length of terms and school days; and operate independently of the local authority.
Teacher unions believe that Free Schools undermine teachers' professional status and their pay and conditions and that they get a disproportionate share of capital and revenue funding for schools at a time when education budgets are being cut. There is also no democratic local accountability of schools to their communities. It means that the Council is no longer able to plan and manage school places for the future across the area - if a Free School opens when existing schools have empty places, then it will affect the survival of those other schools.