Analysis - The goal is understandable, but is the method realistic?

26th September 2008 at 01:00

It is easy to understand the attraction that the Swedish free schools system holds for many English politicians. The arrival of Kunskapsskolan, one of the movement's greatest success stories, in England as an academy sponsor is potentially a most exciting development.

The majority of academies have so far stuck to the standard English model of secondary education. But the Swedish company's highly personalised approach of allowing pupils to set their own timetables offers something radically different.

Many would like to see other providers with different takes given their chance in state-funded education. After all, why should the Government have a monopoly on ideas in education? The more approaches there are, the better the chances of finding something successful, so the thinking goes.

But while the "let a thousand flowers bloom" logic of the Conservatives and Lib Dems is understandable, the policies they have adopted to achieve this goal appear unrealistic.

They depend largely on persuading parents, charities or companies to pay the total cost of buying, building or renting school buildings - and get nothing in return except a warm altruistic glow. The Government only required academy sponsors to pay pound;2m towards school buildings, which can cost more than pound;40m.

But even then it has struggled to find sponsors and has often lowered contributions, allowed payment in instalments, in kind, and sometimes waived the charge.

Then there is the Church of England, the biggest existing non-Governmental supplier of state-funded education. It has had to pay just 10 per cent of the capital costs of the schools it runs.

But even this was judged to be too much when Building Schools for the Future was announced, with ministers letting it off capital contributions altogether.

If the Church of England with all its assets can't afford to pay for school buildings, then what hope is there for anyone else?

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