Rachel Wolf, a former adviser to Michael Gove and the Conservative education team, founded the New Schools Network earlier this month and here she explains its mission. She was also profiled in The Independent last week.
A fortnight ago, we launched a new charity – the New Schools Network – dedicated to helping groups of parents, teachers, charities and other organisations set up new state schools.
This concept of creating new schools has been widely covered in the media (and on ConservativeHome) over the last couple of years, with a particular focus on reforms in Sweden with ‘free schools’ and America with ‘charter schools’. In both countries, parents and other groups have been allowed to set up non-selective state schools, and receive state support for every child in attendance.
British proponents have argued that there will be an enormous response. Sceptics have insisted that no one here will want to start schools. But no one has decided to find out.
It turns out the proponents are right. Since launching the Network we have been overwhelmed by the appetite from parents for the creation of new schools and the desire of providers, teachers and parents themselves to set them up.
We have spent the last few months talking to people across the country, listening to their concerns about their children’s education, and discussing with them how a new system might work best for them.
We have heard from parents who are worried that all the good schools in their local neighbourhood are over-subscribed and that they will be forced to send their child to a school which under-performs. We have heard from others who are worried that they will have to send their child many miles away to the nearest decent school. Others have been worried about issues like class sizes or discipline (you can hear a selection of parents’ views on our website here).
Parents’ specific worries vary. But what unites them is a wish for a second chance to get their child into a good school. Currently, those who do not have good options locally and can not afford private school fees or to move to a different catchment area can either just hope things turn out for the best, or they can try and manoeuvre their way round a bad system. As the schools adjudicator found last week, an enormous number of parents are resorting to desperate measures to get their child into the right school.
Inevitably, it is the poorest who are least likely to succeed in the current system. Children from deprived backgrounds are far less likely to get five good GCSEs with English and Maths – the minimum needed for successful mainstream employment and further education. In some areas of the country, not a single child is reaching this benchmark.
We know that allowing new schools dramatically reduces the achievement gap between the rich and the poor. A recent study of a charter school in Harlem – an area which had been devastated by the crack epidemic – found the improvement of the children, all black and from poor families, was unprecedented. The schools’ pupils started school massively behind their peers – by the end they had become as successful as those from the wealthiest areas in New York.
Parents will only go to charters if they feel they are better than what the state schools have to offer – the schools must respond to the parents in order to stay open.
As a result, parents queue round the block to get into successful charter schools – because they know how much education matters and they want a good school for their child. They have been given the option of taking their child out of a failing school and putting them into a new one that meets their requirements.
British parents deserve the same opportunity – to get their child into a good school which is responsive to their needs. Almost 100,000 parents didn’t get their child into their secondary school of choice last year – many more won’t have even applied to the school they want to get into because they know there’s no hope.
Anyone interested in hearing more about how they might be able to send their child to a new, free school, or how they might be able to set a new school up, or even if they just want to hear more about the idea, should visit our website and get in touch.