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Charter Schools, Education, Effecting Change, GERM (Global Education Reform Movement), Government Policy, Partnership Schools, Privatisation of state schools, School Funding, SOSNZ

UK Free Schools – How Are They Faring?

It was planned that the UK’s Free Schools would educate 200,000 children in schools that would directly compete with public schools and that this would drive up the quality of schooling overall.  Is that what is happening, a couple of years down the track?  Just in case NZ does end up with ‘Partnership schools’, it’s worth taking a peek at the UK’s version…

Not Attracting Students

It’s estimated that by 2015 there will actually be under 20,000 students in free schools – 180,000 short of those planned.  This September as schools went back for the year, a number of planned Free Schools were shelved as they had failed to get enough pupils to make them viable.   There have, of course, been some success stories of schools fully subscribed and having to open further schools nearby to accommodate the students wanting a place.  But in stark contrast to that there are schools that have attracted barely any pupils and have been closed down before they even opened, and at a huge cost. [2] [3]

One has to wonder why those schools are not attracting pupils.  Have they been proposed/opened in direct competition with public sector schools, or in areas where more school places were not really needed?

And if it’s the former, then why are parents and pupils choosing the state schools over the supposedly amazing new Free Schools?

If it’s the latter, then why were they allowed and funded if they were not needed?  Surely that’s just a waste of tax payers’ money?

Wasted Money

In the UK, schools that never opened have been financed to the tune of around £2.3 million (about NZ$4.6 million) – money that could have been spent on improving the schools already there. [2]  The UK’s Labour party education spokesman, Stephen Twigg, said “The Government is making this crisis worse by wasting millions of pounds on pet project schools that either don’t open or don’t have support from the local community and parents.” [4]

Where did that money go?  Someone surely made a wee profit out of those failures, but it sure as heck wasn’t the taxpayer or the pupils.

Inclusion and Equality

“While the efforts of those individuals who set up free schools may be commendable, the overall effect on society is to deepen social segregation. Research shows that long-running free school policies in the US and Sweden have fuelled social segregation in both countries.” [1]  Is that really what NZ needs, especially given the so-called ‘tail of underachievement’ is already skewed towards Maori and Pacifica children?  Do we really want to make things even more separate, even more different?  How will that improve NZ society?  How will that help anyone learn anything?

Are They Right For NZ?

Nothing that has been said so far about Partnership Schools (NZ charter schools) leads me to believe that they will offer anything over and above what we already have in our schools or that could not be supported in the schools we have.    Nothing I have read about those operating abroad convinces me that the benefits will outweigh the negatives nor that those they are trumpeted to help most, those in the ‘tail of achievement’, will be well served by them.

The whole charter school movement seems to be a terribly flawed ideological experiment.


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"One needs to be slow to form convictions, but once formed they must be defended against the heaviest odds." Gandhi


3 thoughts on “UK Free Schools – How Are They Faring?

  1. The 2.3m ‘waste’ in the UK isn’t just on schools that haven’t opened. It’s also schools that have opened but aren’t currently full, and the figure includes capital costs (e.g. buildings) that still sit on public accounts and so when sold will go back to the taxpayer (likely with interest).

    The cost on schools that haven’t opened is probably closer to half a million given the number who haven’t opened but did get cash – and at least one of those is hoping to open this September.

    There IS a lot of waste in the system, and I’m campaigning at present to get better transparency on where it is going, but it is useful to be very clear about these things otherwise you inevitably get accused by Free School proponents of bias in your arguments.


    Posted by missmcinerney | January 21, 2013, 12:13 pm
  2. Thank you for that information – it is always good to get more facts, especially from those at the coal-face, so to speak. If you have any good links to share with us, do let me know and I will revisit the topic. Much appreciated. ~Dianne


    Posted by Dianne - SaveOurSchoolsNZ | January 21, 2013, 12:21 pm


  1. Pingback: So, Swedish Charter Schools Are Great, Are They…? | Save Our Schools NZ - June 1, 2013

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