FORTY new church schools will be opened as part of the Government’s next wave of free schools, the Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, the Revd Nigel Genders, confirmed on Wednesday.
In April, the Department for Education (DfE) announced that plans for 111 free schools had been approved, to add to the existing 124 that have opened since 2015.
Mr Genders has long been open about his interest in ensuring that as many as possible of the new schools are church schools.
“We have said that we want to be proactive in opening as many new schools as we can because we know parents love our schools,” Mr Genders said. “There’s a demand for us to do more of that.
“We have schools lined up to put into the next phase of whatever the DfE offers for the next wave of schools. We want to do more, and our conversations with the Department continue to be encouraging.”
There were reports last week that the free-school building programme might be scaled back or scrapped to free funds for raising teachers’ wages; but the Education Secretary, Justine Greening, has now announced that instead the money would be found from efficiencies and other savings in the Department.
“There will be a slight slowing down of the number you can accept in each wave but the principle of us being able to bid for new schools is still intact,” Mr Genders confirmed. “It doesn’t actually change things but might lead to having to use a different route and slightly slower in terms of speed.”
The majority of new state schools opened in recent years have been free schools, and only a few local authorities have been permitted to open new community schools. Critics of the new initiative, including many within the Labour Party, would like to see the pendulum swing back towards more local authority control. But Mr Genders said that his team was unconcerned about what route was chosen to fund and open new schools.
“The fact they are church schools is the important bit for us. Whether they have gone through a free-school mechanism or a local-authority mechanism makes no difference.”
The National Society had not set itself a numerical target for how many new church schools would open by the end of the Parliament — the DfE hopes to open at least a further 140 — but Mr Genders said that the C of E would bid for “every school where appropriate”.
Derby Cathedral School, a new secondary free school opening next year (News, 21 July, 16 June) was a good example of how a diocese could use the free-school programme creatively, he said.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for the diocese to open a secondary school which they haven’t had before, and use the free-school programme to demonstrate how they can provide fantastic education. Parents will love it.”