UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that another 500 free schools would open in England within the next five years if a Conservative government were to be re-elected this May.
In addition, Cameron has committed to another 270,000 places within those free schools by 2020.
Free schools are state funded, start-up schools with autonomy, and the prime minister has referred to them as “raising standards and restoring discipline.” Free schools are both elementary and secondary schools which are set up by academy sponsors, charities, teachers and groups of parents. The schools operate outside local authority control.
Free schools “are not only outperforming other schools, but they are raising the performance of those around them, meaning more opportunities for children to learn the skills they need to get on in life,” said Mr Cameron.
Faith schools, those specially for children with autism and a “dementia-friendly” primary, were among the latest number of free schools opened by Cameron, totaling 49. This last wave brings the total number of free schools opened to 400 since the policy was launched in 2010. In all, 230,000 places have been created across the country, writes Sally Weale for The Guardian.
If Conservative plans continue through the next Parliament, there will be 900 free schools in all, or more than one in 30 state schools with a total of almost 500,000 places.
However, the free school program has been controversial. Because running a school is so complex, many of the free schools are led by academy chains and education companies, writes Sean Coughlan for BBC.
While supporters argue that the schools offer choice and quality to parents, in addition to new schools which encourage standards at existing schools to rise, instances of free schools failing within the first few months of opening have caused questions to be raised over their quality.
Labour plans to put an end to the free school program, believing that the efforts move funds away from creating extra places where there is the highest shortage.
“Instead of focusing on the need for more primary school places, David Cameron’s government has spent £241m on free schools in areas that already have enough school places,” said shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt. “The result is a 200% increase in the number of infants taught in classes of more than 30.”
According to the Department of Education, the newest wave of free schools would see capital funding received in an effort to provide nursery places for two to four year olds.