Free schools: for and against

“Free schools” are privately run but charge no fees. The first opens this month: will they raise standards?

Rachel Wolf and Melissa Benn

Education minister Michael Gove champions free schools

Melissa Benn: You and your colleagues promote free schools as a means to provide a rigorous education for poor children in a grossly unequal educational landscape. However, I fear that history will judge free schools as, at best,  a damaging diversion from this noble aim, slowing the development of the high quality, genuinely comprehensive system that this country so urgently requires.

Before the election, Michael Gove and David Cameron trumpeted free schools as an opportunity primarily for working-class parents—and not the sharp-elbowed middle class. More than a year on, this is clearly not the case. In practice, the free school movement is developing into a strange, hybrid creature; spearheaded, predictably enough, by figures like the journalist Toby Young. It also appears to be the prime vehicle for faith groups, failing private schools and, most worrying of all, the burgeoning private sector, to seek the state’s protection and revenue.

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