Williamson: National free schools 'revolution' needed

Education secretary says he wants to change the fact that free schools are 'disproportionately' located in the South East

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has called for more free schools to be opened in the Midlands and the North of England.

Speaking during the Queen's Speech debate on education, Mr Williamson said: "These free schools that we have created far too disproportionately, so many of them, have been built in London and the South East.

"I want to see this revolution in education delivery rolled out, spread much more widely through the Midlands, the North and the South West of England.

"Driving up standards, driving up attainment in all of our schools, in all of our communities."


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One of the first announcements Boris Johnson made after becoming prime minister last year was a renewed commitment to opening more free schools.

In recent years, the free schools programme has been used to provide extra capacity to cope with the bulge in pupil numbers and there has also been a move towards established multi-academy trusts opening extra schools, rather than new groups forming.

However, as the demand for places drops, there is a hope in Conservative policy circles that the programme will now return to its original vision as a way of promoting innovation and bringing new people into the system.

There have been suggestions that the Tory party winning seats in traditional Labour heartlands might boost the ambition to open more free schools in the Midlands and the North.

Last year, new analysis of the free schools programme by the Education Policy Insititute (EPI) raised concerns about the areas they serve and attainment at primary level. It also suggested that the high performance of some free schools could actually be down to the pupils who attended them.

Also speaking during today's debate, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said Boris Johnson had described the Queen's Speech as a "blueprint for the future of Britain", adding: "So it is telling that education is missing from that blueprint."

She said: "I have now responded to three Queen's Speeches by three education secretaries in three years. Between them there has not been one single piece of primary legislation.

"The only education bills produced by this government are the ones being handed to the parents by headteachers desperate for donations for their school gates to stay open."

Ms Rayner raised concerns over school funding and questioned why the government had not produced legislation to tackle the cost of school uniforms and equipment, asking: "If they won't act, will they at least support a private member's bill from someone on this side of the House who will?"

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