Parental support: driving the creation of free schools

Nick Timothy
30 October, 2015 : 16:56
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Nearly one-in-eight families are missing out on their first choice of primary school, it’s no wonder more and more parents and teachers are getting involved with starting new schools. 

The rising demand for school places can make national offer day feel like a lottery for too many parents. The school age population is due to rise by nearly 900,000 in the next 10 years. Even more worryingly, too many children attend schools that are failing. Despite many brilliant schools in our country, there are not enough good school places to go around. In fact, one-in-seven children go to failing primary schools and one-in-four go to failing secondaries.

With nearly one-in-eight families missing out on their first choice of primary school , it’s no wonder more and more parents and teachers are getting involved with starting new schools and this is where free schools come in.

What are free schools?

In many ways, free schools are just like any other comprehensive school. They are free to attend and open to all children. They do not charge, do not make a profit and are not allowed to select their pupils on the basis of ability. At the same time, free schools do give teachers the freedom to innovate and cater specifically to the needs of their pupils.

We believe this means that free schools are better placed to give parents what they want – from smaller classes to good standards of behaviour and strong discipline. For example, King’s Leadership Academy in Warrington puts as much emphasis on leadership and character development as it does on academic success. The school has a dedicated leadership curriculum, with at least 90 minutes of each week focussing on completing modules in leadership that have been endorsed and certified by the Chartered Management Institute. 

Parental support

These new schools are always set up from scratch and parental support of the project is crucial. In some cases this has meant parents directly driving the creation of the new school by actively shaping the vision and working with teachers who can support them. The Rise School in Feltham for example is a special school that caters for children with autism. It was started by parents who felt there was no other option for their children.

We are also increasingly seeing parents approaching the best oversubscribed local schools to ask head teachers to open a second school. 

However the idea comes about, no free school can open unless it can show that parents in the community want the proposed school. As part of the tough application process that every free school has to go through, they have to show that parents would choose their school.

Looking ahead - do you see a need? What is the role of a PTA?

With over 400 new schools now open or approved and the Government’s commitment to opening another 500 over the next five years, we are very keen to see parents with experience in education getting involved – whether by becoming actively involved in a free school project or simply highlighting an area that urgently needs a new good school.

PTA members are often in a great position to understand the educational challenges of their area and identify the need for a new school. The support of parents is critical when setting up a new school and setting up a PTA or equivalent parent body can be an important way for free schools to sustain strong parent involvement as they grow. We are delighted that Parentkind is on hand to advise these fledgling schools on how to establish the best PTA possible and reap the benefits for all our children. Find out more

Photo: East London Science School in Bromley-by-Bow.

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Our blog is a place for a range of opinions and debate on parents and their role in their schools and their children’s education. Whilst we think this debate is really important, we don’t always agree with the views being expressed.  


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Nick Timothy
Nick Timothy is Director of New Schools Network, a charity that seeks to improve the quality of education in England by helping to get more free schools set up. Nick is a former special adviser to the Home Secretary, Theresa May and is also a trustee of PACT (Parents and Abducted Children Together).

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