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'Free schools undermine our schools' - says education specialist

By Beth Robson

Former Castle head teacher and educational specialist Les Craggs has spoken of his concerns about free schools – adding another side to the argument whether the Walmer site should become a free school.

Mr Craggs, who has worked extensively in education, feels the idea undermines local authority teaching, strips cash from other schools and is not tried and tested enough.

An application will be submitted to the DfE to turn the former Walmer Science College site into a free school

He said: “It’s all too new.

“There is no momentum. We’re only talking about a small number of free schools that are open.”

He was working for the Department for Education when policy for free schools was being discussed after the Coalition came into power in 2010.

He was sceptical then and is sceptical now.

Mr Craggs said free schools’ freedom to employ untrained teachers and set their own curriculum undermines Local Education Authority (LEA) schools.

He likened them to “letting patients take over the hospitals” and perform the operations.

“We’ve got a government that’s very keen to push it’s ideas before they’ve been properly evaluated.”

The Mercury does not have statistics on how many free school applications are actually successful, but we understand local authorities with capital assets, like the Walmer site, are obliged to consider a free school as an option for that site if someone makes an application to create one.

Free schools are one of education secretary Michael Gove’s new pets, and are highly subsidised to make them successful. But Mr Craggs feels this is taking cash away from other schools, and if the free school does form at Walmer, catering for three to 19-year-olds, it will take money from our primaries, secondary school and sixth-form, he said.

“In the same way the previous Tory administration brought in grant maintained schools to undermine local authority control Michael Gove championed the academies, allowing many schools to convert. And now free schools are the minister’s new pet love.

“We’ve got a government that’s very keen to push it’s ideas before they’ve been properly evaluated.”

He said “It is not a strategic response to a problem, it’s a political response.

“There is data showing that free schools are popping up in more affluent places, not the places where schools are needed.

He added: “On the issue of a school for Deal, I still back the argument from a few years ago, one school for Deal."

The application for a free school has the backing of Charlie Elphicke MP. It will be sent to the DfE for consideration.

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