The Coalition Government’s ‘Free Schools’ are highly controversial and many left-leaning academics and educationalists have argued that they have been a move in the wrong direction (Anti Academies Alliance 2011, Benn 2012, Ball 2013). In this climate, it seems risky to even question whether they might provide some exciting opportunities for educationalists.
Nonetheless, I have been drawn to Free Schools for two main reasons, both of which I would be interested to debate with others:
First, when Free Schools were originally launched as part of the Academies Act 2010, Michael Gove was clear that there was no single blueprint, no formula, and that they would be open to a range of models. To be fair, this seems to have played out to some extent. We now have Free Schools run by the co-operative movement, youth workers and Everton Football Club. This level of diversity offers some interesting alternatives as part of, rather than separate from, the state education system. Since I do not believe that one system could ever to be designed to fit all young people, genuine alternatives seem important
Second, Alternative Provision Free Schools (AP Free Schools) are of particular interest to me because, when underpinned by the values of youth and community work, and staffed by youth workers working alongside teachers, as some of the new providers are, there could be real improvements in the educational offer for students who have been failed by the system. For those of us who work directly with children and young people who are written off as ‘disengaged’ or ‘challenging’, this issue is critical. Through the Free Schools policy, young people who have been excluded from school will, at last, get the same funding as those remaining in mainstream provision
I accept that Free Schools are now part of an increasingly fragmented and fractured education system; one in which parents with social and cultural capital can exploit to their own advantage. It is tempting, therefore, to cast all Free Schools aside and argue that there is not, in any circumstance, a justification for them. However, I believe that Free Schools came in different guises, and as such, it is overly simplistic to dismiss them all.
One thing I am sure about is that Free Schools will be hotly debated during this General Election campaign. What do you think? Please share your comments.
I have published peer-reviewed papers and chapters which you might be interested to read:
Hope, Max A. (2015) Alternative Provision Free Schools: educational fireworks or sparks of optimism for excluded young people (forthcoming book chapter).
Hope, Max A. (2012) Localism, Decentralisation and Free Schools – is there a green light for a radical alternative within England’s state education system? International Studies in Educational Administration.Volume 40, Issue 1. Pages 89-102.
Hope, Max A. (2012) Youth Work and State Education. Should Youth Workers apply to set up a Free School?Youth and Policy. Number 109. Pages 60-70.