Posts tagged "Free Schools"

Schools: The Changing Landscape

We are currently going through a major structural change in the UK education system as schools covert to academies and new institutions such as UTCs, Free Schools and Studio Schools appear on the scene. So what are these new institutions? How many are they? What further expansion might we expect? Here’s a summary of the current situation which I’ve extracted from the DfE web site –


New academies open on the 1st of each month. As of February 2012 there were 1580 open academies. In total 1861 applications have been received, of which 1629 have been approved. This means that there are at least 49 more approved academies that will convert in the coming months and the likelihood of many more between now and the end of the year. With this number there is now a critical mass of academies representing over 50% of the total number of secondary schools in England. The Academies programme has yet to reach Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Briefly, the main differences of an academy include:

Academy Freedoms

  • freedom from local authority control
  • the ability to set their own pay and conditions for staff
  • freedoms around the delivery of the curriculum
  • the ability to change the lengths of terms and school days.

Academy Sponsors

Some academies, generally those set-up to replace underperforming schools, will have a sponsor. Sponsors come from a wide range of backgrounds including successful schools, businesses, universities, charities and faith bodies. Sponsors are held accountable for the improving the performance of their schools. They do this by challenging traditional thinking on how schools are run and what they should be like for students. They seek to make a complete break with cultures of low aspiration and achievement. The sponsor’s vision and leadership are vital to each project.

Academy Funding

Academies receive the same level of per-pupil funding as they would receive from the local authority as a maintained school, plus additions to cover the services that are no longer provided for them by the local authority. However, academies have greater freedom over how they use their budgets to best benefit their students. Academies receive their funding directly from the Young People’s Learning Agency (an agency of the Department for Education) rather than from local authorities.

In addition to the growth in academies, several other new school ‘types’ have emerged:

Free Schools

The first 24 Free Schools opened in September 2011. So what is a Free School?

Free Schools are non-profit making, independent, state-funded schools. There is not a ’one-size-fits-all’ approach. They are not defined by size or location: there is not a single type of Free School or a single reason for setting them up. Free Schools could be primary or secondary schools. They could be located in traditional school buildings or appropriate community spaces such as office buildings or church halls. They could be set up by a wide range of proposers – including charities, universities, businesses, educational groups, visionary teachers or committed parents – who want to make a difference to the educational landscape. They might be needed because there simply are not enough school places in a local area and children have to travel too far to the nearest school. The thing which unites all Free Schools is that they are being set up in response to real demand within a local area for a greater variety of schools. 

A further 54 schools have been approved and will open in September 2012 or beyond.

University Technical Colleges

UTCs are academies for 14-19-year-olds. They focus on providing technical education that meets the needs of modern employers. They offer technical courses and work-related learning, combined with academic studies.  All UTCs:

  • are sponsored by a local university and employers. It is also usual for FE colleges and other educational institutions – like established academy trusts – to work in partnership with them;
  • specialise in two curriculum areas (e.g. engineering and science);
  • teach core GCSEs alongside technical qualifications, and we expect them to offer young people the opportunity to achieve the English Baccalaureate;
  • focus on disciplines that require highly specialised equipment, for example, engineering, manufacturing and construction;
  • teach these disciplines alongside developing young people’s business, ICT and design skills to prepare students for a range of careers and continuing education at 19; and
  • have 500 to 800 students.

The Baker Dearing Educational Trust plays a key role in developing partnerships and advising on applications for UTCs.

Two UTCs are already open – the JCB Academy in Staffordshire, and the Black Country UTC in Walsall. Three more UTCs have been fully approved to open in either Sept 2012 or Sept 2013 and a further 13 applications are progressing through the approval process. This gives a total ofr 18 against the government target of 24.

Studio Schools

On 14 December 2011, 12 new Studio Schools were approved to enter the pre-opening stage. They are spread across England and are a new type of 14-19 school that allow young people to prepare for work, while gaining core qualifications and valuable employability skills. Pupils in a Studio School will experience an innovative curriculum built around project-based learning, with part of the timetable devoted to meaningful work placements and pupils over 16 paid a real wage. They are small schools – typically with around 300 pupils – delivering mainstream qualifications through project based learning.

Students work with local employers and a personal coach, and follow a curriculum designed to give them the employability skills and qualifications they need in work, or to take up further education.

The first two Studio Schools opened in September 2010 in Luton and Huddersfield with a further four opening in September 2011 in Leicestershire, Durham, Manchester and Maidstone.

In summary the educational landscape is rapidly changing. New types of schools are emerging, the role of the local authority has diminished, schools have far greater independence (and responsibility) and funding is direct from the YPLA rather than through the LA.

Academy Update – September

The momentum in the Academy programme continues. Here is the latest data from the DfE website at:

As of 1 September 2011 there are 1,300 academies open in England, including 12 special academies. These Academies are listed in the All open academies spreadsheet available to download from the associated resources section of this page. This information will be updated once a month.

The location of open academies can also be seen on the academies map where you can click into areas and then view details for each academy.

The Publication list spreadsheet, also available to download, shows details of schools which have formally applied for academy status and progress towards conversion, including all academies that have opened in the academic year 2011/12.

This information will also be updated monthly as more academies open.

To put these fugures into context, the majority of open academies are secondary schools and the UK has approx. 4,000 in total. So, the 1300 Academies represent nearly 1/3 of the secondary school population with many more institutions having made applications.

The other significant development is that of Free Schools. These represent a much smaller number than Academies, but nevetheless represent a significant change in education provision within the UK.

24 Free Schools opened in September 2011 as can be seen from the interactive map:

Free Schools and Technology Colleges

Government policy continues to develop. Today’s article in the Telegraph talks about the rush towards Free Schools with a huge rise in applications. Support for Free School applications are managed by Partnership for Schools (formerly responsible for BSF), but whether they have the capacity to cope with so many applications is another question. The full article and associated commentary can be found via the following link:

Hundreds of groups bidding to run ‘free schools’, says Gove

More than 100 schools run by parents, teachers and charities will open in little over a year in a boost to the Coalition’s Big Society programme, ministers will say today.

Some 281 applications have been made in the last three months to establish a new wave of “free schools” – Government-funded institutions run independent of local council control.

New figures show almost six-in-10 bids to open new-style schools have been made by local community groups. Around a fifth come from independent schools seeking to open satellite campuses for parents unable to pay for a private education, it is revealed.

In most cases, applicants are attempting to establish new schools because of a shortage of places in the local area or to “address historic academic failure”, the Government said.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, will use a speech today to insist that his free school policy is on-track to meet initial targets.

This comes despite repeated claims from critics that the Government’s Big Society programme – reforms designed to devolve power to communities – has flopped.

Last month, Labour said the reforms were “descending into farce” after Lord Wei, the peer placed in charge of the policy, announced plans to stand down.

It has been attacked for being too “woolly” and being established as a front for public spending cuts.

But addressing a conference in central London today, Mr Gove will point to “extremely promising” recent free school applications as evidence that the reforms are working.

“Our critics said it was impossible to open a school in little more than a year. Several will open this September,” he said ahead of the speech.

“The rationing of good schools must end. Our reforms are about creating a generation of world-class schools, free from meddling and prescription, that provide more children with the type of education previously reserved for the rich.”

Under the policy, any non-profit making group can apply to open their own school free of local council interference. They are given almost complete independence to hire staff, set teachers’ pay, alter the academic year and write the curriculum.

Some 323 applications were made to open schools last year but some 90 per cent were rejected because of weak business cases. Just 40 were improved, with about 14 opening this September.

The application process was toughened up this year, requiring backers to provide in-depth financial plans before being considered.

According to figures, 281 applications have been made under the new regime since March and it is estimated that around 100 of these will open in September 2012.

Of those applications, most are for mainstream schools, although small numbers of bidders are seeking to open institutions for pupils with special needs or those expelled from ordinary primaries and secondaries.

Some 56 per cent of applications are from local groups, figures show, while 18 per cent are from independent schools.

Meanwhile, the Government has also said that 37 applications have been made top open new-style technical schools that pupils will attend to learn a trade.

Children will transfer to University Technical Colleges from the age of 14 to take practical courses, supplemented with mainstream GCSEs in English and maths.