The Guardian
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David Cameron pledges more free school by 2020


A FURTHER 500 free schools would be opened in England in the next five years under a Conservative government, David Cameron is to pledge.

In a speech, he will commit to creating an extra 270,000 school places in free schools, if re-elected, by 2020.

The prime minister says these state-funded, start-up schools are “raising standards and restoring discipline”.

Labour’s Tristram Hunt says free schools are “funnelling money into areas of surplus school places”.

Speaking in London, Mr Cameron will announce the final wave of 49 free schools of the current Parliament and then promise an expansion if re-elected in May’s general election.

Free schools are set up by academy sponsors, charities, teachers and groups of parents, and operate outside local authority control.

With the free schools being announced later, there will be more than 400 free schools already opened or approved, with 230,000 places.

Mr Cameron will say that the Conservatives are the “only party that’s opening up the education system so we can get more good places for your children”.

He will say that 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”.

If his plans went ahead, more than one in 30 state schools would be free schools by the end of the next Parliament.

The Labour Party has promised to cancel the free schools programme, saying that it diverts funds away from creating extra places where there is the greatest 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 Mr Hunt.

“The result is a 200% increase in the number of infants taught in classes of more than 30.”Research to be published by the Policy Exchange think tank argues that the extra competition from free schools raises standards among neighbouring schools.

The right-wing think tank says if they can offer more choice and raise standards, new free schools should not be confined to areas with a shortage of places.

“Parents should be given real choice to set up new schools where they want them and where they can show a real plan for delivering good new provision,” said Jonathan Simons, head of education at Policy Exchange.

But the National Union of Teachers dismissed the report as being based on sample sizes that were too small for any robust conclusions.

The NUT’s deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney said there was no evidence to show links between free schools and the performance of other nearby schools.

What the study did reveal, he said, was that the push for more free schools was not really “parent-led” but was now “dominated” by academy sponsors.

But Natalie Evans, director of the New Schools Network, which supports the opening of free schools, said free schools encouraged other schools “to raise their game”.

She said free schools should be targeted not only at places with a shortage of school places but in areas with a need to raise standards.

The Department for Education said that for the first time, the new wave of free schools would be able to receive capital funding to provide nursery places for two to four year olds.

Among the new free schools to be announced will be the Green School for Boys in Isleworth and Brentford; the Northampton International Academy; the Great Western Academy, Swindon; the New School for Harrow; Swindon Church of England Secondary School; Cheadle Hulme Primary School, Stockport; and Bishop Chavasse School, Tonbridge, Kent.

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