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Somerset Headteachers criticise free schools

FREE schools, the coalition government intiative which has already introduced over 80 new schools in England, have come under attack from The Somerset Association of Secondary Headteachers (SASH).

The all-ability state-funded schools are said to be set up in response to what local people want, and free to attend. Locally, the Steiner Academy Frome, the state-funded Steiner ‘free school,’ is now open at the Corsley Centre, with plans to move into the town. Plans by another group for a Frome Free School received local support, but have now been dropped.

The Somerset Association of Secondary Headteachers says it has a number of concerns about the development of free schools, calling them “unwelcome and potentially divisive in Somerset.”

The group, which represents the headteachers and principals of the 38 state funded secondary schools and academies in Somerset says that free schools can create surplus places in some areas while making established schools unviable. It adds that the Department for Education puts different expectations on free schools, and says that local communities have less of a say.

A statement from the group says, “Historically the creation of new schools within the state sector has been organised with due regard to the existing school organisation and demand for places. This process has been part of the local democratic process with due consultation with interested parties. Free Schools are in contrast, being created by special interest groups such as particular groups of parents via a direct bid to the Secretary of State. Little notice is taken of local public opinion by the Department for Education in deciding whether to accept a bid.

“We accept the right of these groups to set up their own schools such as those created in the past by the Steiner movement but we do not accept that they should be in receipt of state funding.

“Since 2010 any new school has to be an Academy or a Free school – a local community or its Local Authority cannot choose to create a new community school. This is a real loss of local democracy. It can create a situation in which in a growing town a child may be forced to attend the Free School if that is the only place available.”

So far, 81 free schools have been opened in England and 100 more are planned to open in September this year.