The news that Education Secretary Michael Gove plans to allow free schools an exemption from the Admissions Code so that parents starting up a school should be able to send their own children to it will be an important spur to getting more of these schools up and running. The great challenge with starting a free school is in finding a site. So supposing you have a group of parents – perhaps a dozen or half of dozen – from a local area with poor state schooling who want to start a free school but can't find a site in their immediate area. So they have to choose one a mile away.
Then they become victims of their own success if the school becomes oversubscribed and places must be allocated on the basis of proximity to the school and they don't get their own children in. A reasonable person could see that is unfair. Of course those opposing free schools are not reasonable people annd will resist the change.
An editorial in The Independent yesterday sat on the fence:
Up to a point, it was always to be expected that parents setting up a free school would want to send their children there. It would be unreasonable to expect anyone to invest the necessary time and expertise without a measure of self-interest. And the desire of parents to found a school worthy, as they would see it, of their children should itself serve as a recommendation of quality.
Yet there are also dangers that – as is feared by their opponents – at least some free schools come to resemble clubs for the privileged, especially if a large group of parents is involved. Add priority for the children of teachers, and how many others will get a look-in? It is to be hoped that Mr Gove, whose ministerial attention to detail has not been especially impressive in his early months, ensures that the new admissions code minimises this risk.
Minimises the risk? What about minimising the risk of children failing to get a decent education because of shortage of places at good schools? It's all the very well for the privileged, such as the editor of The Independent - they can afford to pay school fees. (Something the previous editor at least did.) The less privileged among us are interested in getting free schools started. In any case the number of children from founders of a school will constitute a small minority of the school roll – perhaps ten or 20 out of hundreds.