Free school programme needs rebooting, says Gibb

Minister says original ‘iconoclastic’ free schools vision has been lost because of a shortage of places and funding

Martin George

Schools minister Nick Gibb wants the next prime minister to return the free schools programme to its original 'iconoclastic' state.

Nick Gibb has called for the next prime minister to refocus the free schools programme so that it is as “iconoclastic” as when it was introduced by Michael Gove.

The schools minister said that in recent years funding constraints have caused the flagship policy to move away from one of its original goals – creating new challenger schools in areas with poor standards.

The minister made his comments at an event held by the right-of-centre thinktank Policy Exchange the day before Mr Gove was knocked out of the race to become the next Conservative Party leader and prime minister.

Quick read: Toby Young resigns from New Schools Network

Opinion: 'Against the odds, free schools are a success'

Long read: The unanswered questions about a free school scandal

Mr Gibb praised free schools such as Michaela Community School in West London, which he said are “challenging existing education orthodoxies”.

Free schools 'challenge orthodoxy'

However, he added: “Because of the constraints on spending in the last few years we have had to restrict where those free schools are and confine them to areas where there’s a need for new school places. That’s a good use of taxpayers' money.

“But one of the reasons for having free schools challenging orthodoxies is to allow parents or teachers or multi-academy trusts to set up free schools in areas where standards are poor, even if they have sufficient places, because they need to challenge the existing approach to education in those areas.

“So a future prime minister, I would like him to focus on ensuring that our free schools programme is as iconoclastic as it was when it was first introduced.”

The event’s theme was to ask what the next prime minister should do in education.

Mr Gibb said: “My overall message is we mustn’t let up on the reform process that began in 2010.

“It needs to continue until we have every school in this country a good school, delivering the kind of curriculum and the kind of behaviour we see in the best free schools and the best academies in the country.”

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Martin George

Martin George

Martin George is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @geomr

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