Glory days of parent power prove short-lived

Number of free schools set up by parents in England dwindles

The proportion of new free schools in England being set up by parent groups has fallen to just 5 per cent, an analysis of the latest cohort of state-funded independent schools has shown.

The UK government announced this week that 102 new free schools had been approved to open from 2014, bringing the total number of such schools to 292. But just 5 per cent of the new schools are being set up by parent groups. That figure rises to only 7 per cent if parent groups working in collaboration with community groups are included.

The free-school policy gives parents the power to set up their own school if they are unhappy with the existing provision. In 2011, a third of the initial wave of free schools were started by parents, the most high-profile of whom was journalist Toby Young, who established the West London Free School.

Ministers soon tightened the criteria that applicants needed to meet. While Mr Young predicted in 2011 that it would become harder for parents to start free schools, he told TES this week: "It is worth noting that while parent groups may be declining as a percentage, teacher-led groups are increasing."

Of the latest wave of free schools, 28 per cent are being established by multi-academy chains. A further 27 per cent are being set up by existing mainstream schools or academies.

The Department for Education is keen to avoid potentially embarrassing closures of free schools. In the US, scores of charter schools - which are also state-funded and independently run - have been forced to shut down. According to a 2011 report by the Center of Education Reform, The State of Charter Schools, by that date about 15 per cent of charter schools had been closed across the US since 1992 because of underperformance.

In response to the latest announcement, the British Humanist Association voiced concerns over the fact that 25 of the newly announced free schools had a religious character.

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