Reserve free schools for where they solve squeeze on spaces, says Cheadle MP

A Greater Manchester MP has welcomed plans to create a new free school in Cheadle – but has warned that David Cameron’s election promise of 500 free schools should be reserved for places where there is ‘genuine need’.

The Coalition approved 49 free schools across the country ahead of the election, including Bolton, Trafford and Altrincham as well as Cheadle, the latter of which suffers from a shortage of primary school places, according to Lib Dem MP Mark Hunter.

However, Mr Cameron’s pledge is part of a wider scheme to approve 500 more free schools as part of the Conservative’s promise to give all parents the choice and security of a good local school if the Tories are re-elected in the May general elections.

Mr Cameron’s plans were blasted by the Lib Dems’ schools minister David Laws yesterday, who claimed it would ‘blow a £4billion hole’ in the government’s school buildings budget, which would leave children studying in ‘crumbling classrooms’. 

Cheadle MP Mr Hunter told MM that he backs Mr Laws’ concerns and that free schools should only be approved in places where there is a squeeze on spaces. 

Mr Hunter told MM: “There are communities where there are particular local requirements, such as those in Cheadle Hulme, where there is a current shortage of primary school places. 

“A new school is needed now, and that is why I welcome the news about Cheadle Primary. 

“The Lib Dems have ensured that free schools in this Coalition Government, and in this instance, where there is a genuine need for places, which is why I support this Coalition Government announcement.”

Cheadle Hulme Primary School – a 420 capacity initiative backed by the group behind the highly performing Cheadle Hulme High School – will become one of the region’s new free education establishments by 2016.

“I am delighted to hear that plans for the new Cheadle Hulme Primary School have been approved [yesterday],” Mr Hunter said.

“Cheadle constituency and Cheadle Hulme in particular, is short of primary school places as more people recognise what a great place our local community is to raise a family. 

“I look forward to seeing these proposals being taken forward and providing another excellent primary school for Cheadle Hulme.”

Others include North Cestrian School in Altrincham, The Olive School in Bolton and The Orchards in Trafford.

Mr Cameron said: “Delivering the best schools and skills for young people is a crucial part of our long term economic plan to secure a better future for Britain.

“Free schools set up by teachers, parents and community groups are not only outperforming other schools, but they are raising the performance of those around them, meaning more opportunities for children to learn the skills they need to get on in life.

“These new schools are an important part of our plan to improve education by raising standards and restoring discipline so our children can compete with the world’s best and enjoy a better future.”

Free Schools are independent of local authority control, and despite receiving their funding from central government, they maintain autonomy over a range of factors, including curriculum, teachers’ pay and the length of schools days and terms.

This landmark move would see nearly a quarter of a million free schools in existence, with schools being created more quickly than ever before.

That means that if the Conservatives were to remain in power, a further 500 free schools would be opened in England in the next five years, creating an extra 270,000 school places in free schools by 2020.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband has been intensely critical of the decision, stating that the Conservatives have spent over £240million on free schools in areas that already have enough places.

He has also emphasised the more urgent need for increased primary school places, and that is certainly the case in Manchester.

The council’s executive member for children’s services, Sheila Newman, spoke last year about how an extra 1,400 reception class places had to be created in the last five years, just to meet the ‘growing demand’.

And after a number of high profile cases involving the failure of several free schools, including the most recent Durham Free School, which scored the lowest possible rating of ‘inadequate’ on four OFSTED categories, there has been some scepticism surrounding the free school model.

A number of critics have argued that free schools have the capacity to damage other schools by stealing their pupils and resources, which would have an entirely negative effect on the state school system.

But Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has praised the policy for offering thousands of children the chance of an excellent education.

She said: “Free schools give pupils the chance to attend an excellent local school.

“They are providing more choice than ever before to parents and ensuring that children have access to a high quality school place and the best possible education that prepares them for life in modern Britain.

“With the total number of approved free schools now rising to more than 400, the demand from parents, charities and education experts to set up the schools has proven the programme to be one of the most important modern drivers of social mobility.

“Today’s announcement sends a clear sign that children for generations to come will be able to benefit from a place in a free school.

“With already more than two-thirds being rated good or outstanding, today’s news will reassure parents that standards will continue to rise.”

Image courtesy of ITN, via YouTube, with thanks

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