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Cameron promises more free schools

13 March 2015


At the table: David Cameron and the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, with pupils at the Green School, Isleworth, on Monday 

At the table: David Cameron and the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, with pupils at the Green School, Isleworth, on Monday 

HUNDREDS of new free schools will be approved if the Conservatives win the forthcoming General Election, the Prime Minister announced this week. The Tories plan to add 500 free schools to the 400-plus already open or in the pipeline, David Cameron said.

He pledged the doubling of the free-school programme during a visit to the historic Green School, a successful Church of England girls' comprehensive in Isleworth, west London, on Monday, when he also confirmed that the Government had given the go-ahead this month to a further 49 free-school proposals

One of the 49 is the Green School for Boys, planned as a C of E secondary specialising in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and maths), which will seek to combat the growing underachievement of boys.

The chief executive of the Green School Trust, Jill Coughlan, said that the staff would use strategies pioneered at the Green Girls' and other single-sex girls' schools: "We aim to replicate this success with the boys."

The list of approvals includes two other C of E-designated schools. One, in Swindon, sponsored by Bristol diocese, will be the town's first Anglican secondary, meeting need in an area with a shortage of school places. Bishop Chavasse C of E primary school in Tunbridge Wells will be closely associated with the Bennett Diocesan Memorial School, an outstanding comprehensive. Another approved proposal, Kingsteignton primary, in Devon, is backed by the federation that runs the popular St Michael's (C of E) primary school, which says that it wants to bring its educational expertise to a wider community.

Two other listed schools will have a Christian ethos. City Gates primary in Goodmayes, Ilford, will serve parents who want a small Christian school, and the Runnymede School, a secondary in Chertsey, Surrey, will be supported by two successful schools in the county, the RC Salesian School and Epsom and Ewell High School.

The Muslim Tauheedul Trust has been given the go-ahead to open three new "Olive" schools in Birmingham, Bolton, and Preston, which, the Trust says, will model progressive Muslim education in the mainstream system.

The proposed expansion of the free-school system will be controversial. Critics say that they soak up cash needed by existing schools, and that the Government exaggerates their success. Labour has said that it would end the programme while retaining those already open. Fewer than a handful have closed, but the dozen or so C of E schools, all developed with the backing of their diocese and local authority, have so far proved successful.

London has more free schools than any other diocese, all opened with local-authority support. The eight secondaries and primaries have helped the diocese to provide 8000 urgently needed new school places since 2010, the diocesan director of education, Inigo Woolf, said. Those so far inspected have been rated good or outstanding.

Church-school place for Nancy Cameron. The Prime Minister's announcement on free schools came days after the Camerons learned that they had gained a place for their older daughter, Nancy, at Grey Coat Hospital, a C of E comprehensive academy for girls, a short walk from Downing Street.

The ethnically diverse school, where one in four pupils has English as a second language, and between 25 and 30 per cent receive free school meals - slightly higher than the national average - is oversubscribed and highly successful. The director of school-support services for London diocese, Liz Wolverson, said that Grey Coat was noted for its high "added value" rating, which was markedly higher than schools nationally.

Ninety-five per cent of Grey Coat pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds achieve well in public examinations. The school also has an award-winning gospel choir.

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