Call to let parents take over 'untouchable' schools

New Schools Network issues seven recommendations for the future of the free schools programme

The New Schools Network issued a list of seven recommendation for the future of the free schools programme

Parent groups should be allowed to take over “untouchable” schools that no one else will sponsor, according to the government-backed free schools charity.

The proposal is one of seven recommendations laid out in a report released by the New Schools Network today to mark its 10th anniversary.

The idea was branded “a recipe for disaster” by the NEU teaching union.


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The organisation said 92 schools are currently rated "inadequate" and waiting for an academy trust to sponsor them, of which 31 are said to be “untouchable” after being without a sponsor for at least 12 months.

Currently, regional schools commissioners decide who takes over failing schools using a process that has been criticised for a lack of transparency.

Academy trusts have been reluctant to take responsibility for such schools for a variety of reasons, including financial problems, low pupil numbers, poor results or the condition of buildings.

Parents 'could take over struggling schools'

Today’s NSN proposal would see a new free schools route set up, which would allow applicants to bid to sponsor an “untouchable” school.

Currently, the free schools programme only allows groups to set up new schools, or for private schools to join the state sector as free schools.

NSN director Luke Tryl said: “That tens of thousands of pupils have been left to languish in schools deemed in need of new leadership, and that 13,000 have been stuck in such schools for more than a year, is a scandal.

“It’s clear, given the lack of financial support and positive incentives, existing schools are simply unable to support these untouchable orphan schools.

“Something different is needed, and our report provides an answer, both to turn around failing schools and re-empower communities with a stake in their children’s educations.”

Mr Tryl told Tes that the groups taking over untouchable schools could be ones that already run a successful free school, or a new group if it passed stringent tests.

The charity said applicants would be tested on their vision for the school, the curriculum offer, plans to improve leadership, previous educational experience, financial evidence and community engagement, and would receive financial incentives for taking such schools on.

The report says the proposal “would be more expensive than regular sponsorship”, but cheaper than opening a new school on its own.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “We need a supportive and cooperative framework for school improvement, involving the local authority and neighbouring schools in full consultation with parents and staff. Parachuting in NSN-approved groups to take over schools would be a recipe for disaster.”

The six other NSN recommendations are:

  • 100 free schools to be opened a year;
  • Expansion of the free school policy to all areas of the country;
  • More community groups to be involved with the programme;
  • Legislation to remove barriers to new free schools;
  • Small, innovative trusts be encouraged to grow;
  • Investment in a new wave of specialist alternative-provision free schools. 
     

Schools minister Lord Agnew said: “This report is absolutely right to highlight the revolutionary effect that free schools have had on education and continue to make in communities across the country.

"It is because of this progress and the incredible impact free schools have had on countless families’ lives that we will not let this programme stall.

“Many parts of the country have already taken advantage of the free school Programme and have reaped the benefits.

"In the most recent round of free schools, announced just last month, we have targeted new free schools in the areas that need them most, so that more children can benefit from the fantastic education they provide.”  

 

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