Teachers to create their own 'free schools'

13th November 2009 at 00:00
Gove says new education model would be part of push to raise status of profession

Original paper headline: Tories ask teachers to go it alone with `free schools' of their own

Groups of "ambitious" classroom teachers will be encouraged to set up their own state-funded schools if the Conservatives win power at the next general election.

Until now, much of the focus on the Tories' plans to broaden school supply has been on groups of parents opening schools in their communities - akin to the free school system in Sweden.

But while the Conservatives claim parent groups are expressing interest in the idea, it is thought to be far more likely they will turn to teachers to set up schools. This more closely follows the charter school programme in the US.

The Tories' blueprint is the Knowledge Is Power Programme (KIPP), which boasts 82 schools across 19 states and was founded by two teachers in their 20s who wanted to improve the school system in the most deprived areas of New York.

Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said the proposals to encourage teachers to set up on their own was part of the Conservatives' push to raise the status of the teaching profession.

Mr Gove said: "It is vital that, like in Finland and Singapore, teaching becomes one of our most respected professions. I will make radical changes so that groups of teachers can start their own schools, as has happened with the phenomenally successful KIPP chain in America.

"This is one of the most important ways in which we can get the best teachers into the poorest areas and give poor children a better chance."

The Tories are expected to look towards "competent and engaged" groups of teachers, who will want to start their own schools in similarly deprived areas of England.

According to the recently formed New Schools Network, an independent organisation that aims to set up new schools, "significant numbers" of teachers have already been in touch with the aim to start their own school.

New Schools Network director Rachel Wolf told the TES: "Teachers can be the driving force behind new schools, just as they are in America because they have expertise, passion and experience working with pupils from every background, including those from the most deprived areas.

"We have already been contacted by significant numbers of teachers and we look forward to working with them to deliver better schools."

The New Schools Network also played down the involvement of Teach First alumni, stating that although there are a number of interested parties who are from the programme, the majority of applicants are teachers from right across the schools sector.

But John Bangs, head of education at the NUT, says the shift in focus from parents to teachers setting up schools does not change the underlying dangers of the Tories' plans for school reform.

Mr Bangs said: "The principle is not whether teachers or parents set up schools but rather whether the funding that is being made available to the local community is under democratic accountability. It is about whether the proper democratic decisions have been made and whether the school comes under the framework of accountability that currently exists.

"Setting up these schools goes against the idea of ensuring equity i.e. a good local school within every community."

He added: "And although I don't think any teacher would consciously set up a school that is selective, due to the nature of these schools - where they are in competition with one another - they may go that way. It could be an unforeseen consequence."

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