Ben Howlett is the National Chairman of Conservative Future.
This week young people across the UK walked through their school gates to start a new academic year. This year however will be different for the many parents and children across the country who will be taking part in new opportunity to revolutionise England’s education system. Free Schools are an exciting alternative to existing schools which will help raise standards for children across the board.
Over the past few weeks I have been speaking to school pupils who have been using their summer holidays to spend time on the campaign trail for Boris in London and for by-elections across the UK. Having heard about Free Schools on the news, almost everyone has said to me 'I wish I was going to a Free School'.
The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, has given permission for 24 new Free Schools to be delivered, helping to turn around the fundamental flaws in our education system. Under Labour too many children were failed, with the weakest schools concentrated in the poorest towns and cities. According to the OECD, over the last decade we plummeted down the league tables for maths, science and reading. Even though Labour threw money at the problem, the situation got worse. Children from disadvantaged backgrounds were still falling behind with figures showing that in one year just 40 pupils out of the 80,000 eligible for free school meals made it to Oxbridge. Labour only gave autonomy to a small number of academy schools in a small number of areas, even though the OECD have said that the world’s best education systems give schools more autonomy. Now, they perversely seem to be attacking those who genuinely believe they can improve their local schools.
Pupils who are going to be sitting in Free School classrooms for the first time this week will see a new type of education. Free schools, like academies, will have freedom from the National Curriculum; more control over their budgets; the ability to change the length of terms and school days; more opportunities to work with other public and private organisations, and far less interference from quangocrats in national and local bureaucracies. This system will help schools develop and grow, away from the control of the state. Teachers will be trusted to get on with the job, which can only have positive results for pupils.
Free Schools will be engines for social mobility. So far, Free Schools have been set up in predominantly deprived areas, with a similar picture emerging from the 281 applications to open next year. Half of the 24 schools are located in the most deprived 30 per cent of communities in the country. The enormous potential of the Free Schools programme has led to a broad spectrum of support already. In his memoirs Tony Blair endorsed the Government's education policies and one of his key advisers – Peter Hyman, former head of the Strategic Communications Unit in Number 10 – has even applied to set up his own Free School.
With all the positive opportunities that will be gained from Free Schools, we call upon all those students and pupils who support Free Schools to start spreading the message to friends and fellow students. Let's get the message out there #IwanttogotoaFreeSchool. Let's get it trending on Twitter and get the campaign going across the UK.