"We wouldn't condemn Salford for their decision but neither are we entirely comfortable with it..." National Education Union
Salford City Council is to tear up any socialist principles and endorse a strategy of encouraging free schools in the city, in order to help solve the pupil place crisis.
Next week, Salford City Mayor, Paul Dennett, and his Cabinet are set to rubber stamp a Free Schools Strategy which would be "encouraging free school applications, from endorsed proposers, to support the requirement for additional school places in key areas of the city where the need is clearly proven."
The creation of so-called 'free schools' is one of Theresa May's pet projects. She has promised to create five hundred of the things. They are funded by the Government but remain outside of the control of local councils, can set their own curriculum and admission policies, can employ non-qualified teachers and are basically unaccountable to anyone but the Government.
Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, has promised to end free schools under a Labour Government, telling the Party's Conference this year that she would "scrap the inefficient free school programme and instead focus on delivering what works to get the best results for pupils".
Under current legislation councils cannot open new schools, despite Salford reaching what it calls 'saturation point'... "The Mayoral Working Party is considering the options to manage further expansions of the school estate and the potential opportunity of the strategic use of the free school policy" the Strategy states "There is also recurrent and increasing demand for children and young people in out of City high cost specialist provision.
"The LA is keen to take a proactive approach, to ensure that the most effective free
schools are approved in the city, to best cater for the needs of our children and
young people" it adds "...To enable LAs to influence free schools being approved in Salford with providers which will be strong partners as opposed to ones which do not wish to engage with the council it is proposed that Salford LA engages with preferred providers to facilitate this..."
It is believed that at least two new 'free' secondary schools are needed through this process, including one that specialises in Special Education Needs (SEN).
The report to Cabinet puts the risk of embarking on such a strategy as 'High'. The report also states that "This framework has been consulted on with Trade Unions in 2017. Feedback was positive and no suggestions for amendments or additions were made."
Teaching trade unions and the Anti Academies Alliance have roundly condemned the concept of free schools and have campaigned against them, but this latest strategy sees both the unions and Labour Party run Salford Council compromising in order to solve a crisis, as the least worst option.
"Under Government policy the only new schools that can open have to be free schools, they don't get a choice" Peter Middleman, National Education Union Regional Secretary told the Salford Star "In Salford there are a number of interested parties, some of whom might be more benevolent than others that are approaching the Council with a view to opening a new free school.
"That's a compromise for us obviously" he added "We would prefer that the authorities could make adequate provision under total democratic control but until the Government or Government policy changes that is not the position. We wouldn't condemn Salford for their decision but neither are we entirely comfortable with it because we do reject the free school philosophy."
When Salford Council last delved into Tory philosophy academies the result was a disaster, with the Salford Academy Trust - a joint Salford Council, Salford College and Salford University venture that ran four local schools - forced to wind up after the Department of Education stated that it did not have 'sufficient capacity to improve its schools'....
See also previous Salford Star article Four Salford Schools In Turmoil As Academy Trust Wound Up – click here