Often, free schools offer a pretty general, all round good education. That's fine. The more of them that open, the more choice there is for parents and the more competition there is – driving up standards in other schools. However, another aspect of the free school revolution is the scope for innovation. When the first free schools opened in 2011 the critics could say there were "only" 24. When last September another 55 opened, the critics could still say there were "only" 79. With around another 90 opening this year and over 100 more next year it gets gradually harder to prefix the total with "only."
Also we can now start to see how these schools get on with doing things differently. The process is bottom up, rather than top down. Groups of teachers or parents or specialist organisations can come up with their own ideas and then ask to be given a chance. It is not easy, of course. They have to find a site, they have to show evidence that they would attract a viable number of pupils and so on. But coming through all this are some pioneers that I will be looking at this week.
To start off. King's College, London is opening a free school specialising in maths. The Kings College London Maths School is due to open next year, probably in Waterloo. It will be small – just for 120 sixth formers – and all the pupils will take A-levels in Maths, Further maths and Physics.
The headmaster Dan Abrahamson says:
"I aim to create a curriculum which will not only offer challenge, creativity and excitement, but which will become a model for how best to enhance the learning of able sixth form pupils. The melting pot of mathematical interest and talent at the school, coupled with the high quality curriculum and teaching, will spur on our pupils to academic success both at school and beyond. I want King’s College London Mathematics School to become the top provider of mathematicians, physicists, engineers, statisticians and computer scientists in the country."
Even before it has opened the school is providing a benefit to pupils:
In order to inform potential pupils about the school and help more of them reach the standards required for successful sixth form mathematics study at a high level, an outreach programme is underway, targeting Key Stage 4.
This began in September 2012 under the direction of Professor Alice Rogers at the King’s College London Mathematics Department.
The scheme is designed to have a positive effect on the people involved, even if they do not wish to apply to KCLMS or are unsuccessful in the selection process.