Around 330 groups have applied to open free schools next year. Many will succeed. Already by September this year there should be around a hundred up and running. But we need thousands not just hundreds if the aspiration of parents for choice are to be met. At present there is a rationing system which limits the number of free schools that can be set up however good the applications are.
The Times Educational Supplement reports on how changes in funding arrangements will be needed for this pent up demand to be met according to Rachel Wolf of the New Schools Network.
The report says:
Currently, every free school must secure a site through the DfE's capital arm, Partnerships for Schools (PfS), but according to Ms Wolf the quango is struggling to cope with demand.
Rachel Wolf says:
"The government has had to move the application and approval process so that it occurs earlier in the year, to give schools more of a chance to find sites once they are approved. This set-up relies on PfS and applicants are banned from entering into negotiations over potential sites.
"The Treasury have got to realise that, if they want hundreds of free schools opening every year and they don't want a quango with 30,000 people running it, then they have to be more flexible with the capital."
Toby Young, chairman of governors at the West London Free School, says:
"The Secretary of State should either allow for-profit education management organisations to set up, own and operate free schools or, at the very least, put a procurement framework in place that enables free school charitable trusts to outsource the management of their schools to such organisations.
"I'm sure plenty of management companies would be prepared to bear some of the capital cost of setting up a free school in return for a 10-year contract."