In September, a new free school is opening in Burnley. The Burnley High School has met with an enthusiastic response from prospective parents. 70 per cent of those surveyed have indicated their interest in sending their child to the
school, with over 300 parents and children attending recent open evenings.
For some, the school’s Christian ethos is important in making this choice. For others, the innovative approach of providing personal coaching for each pupil may be an attraction. At the moment nine per cent of local parents currently choose to send their children to schools outside of Burnley. Perhaps the parents have looked at the performance of the other secondary schools. All are below the national average for the proportion of children gaining five good GCSEs including English and maths.
The objections to the school have come from the former Labour MP Peter Pike and the Labour-run council, although the Lib Dem MP for Burnley, Gordon Birtwhistle is supportive.
Contrary to a misleading report in the Lancashire Telegraph, the capital funding to start the school comes from a national pot not taken from other local schools. However, as the free school will be funded per pupil, in the same way as other state schools, it is certainly true that the existing state schools will face more competition. They have already shown some improvement but they will need to show significant further improvement to remain viable – otherwise they will have to close or be put under new management.
Lancashire County Council notes that even before the opening of the free school there were surplus places. For instance, Hameldon School has 750 places but is only half full. Of course it is. Only 43 per cent of its pupils get good GCSEs compared to 59 per cent nationally.
Would you send your children to Hemeldon School if you lived in Burnley and could avoid doing so?
That might be one for Jeremy Paxman to ask the Shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt. Labour’s policy is that new free schools should not open where there are any surplus places. Lord Adonis plaintively adds the caveat “good quality school places” – but that is not, as I understand it, Labour’s policy. Their policy on surplus places would mean denying parents, in towns such as Burnley, the chance of a good school for their children. The worse the schools, the higher the number of surplus places, and the harder Labour would make it to escape.