Education International
Education International

UK: Unions condemn plans to open more free schools

published 18 July 2012 updated 25 July 2012

The two largest of EI’s national affiliates in the UK, the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) and the National Union of Teachers (NUT), have strongly reacted against Downing Street's plans to open a further 100 free schools in England from next year onwards.

“Free schools are opened at the expense of neighbouring schools whose already diminishing budgets will be top-sliced to fund them,” said NASUWT General Secretary Chris Keates.

Endangering Education for All

She opposed the fact that free schools are not required to ensure that all children and young people are taught by a qualified teacher.

Keates also stressed that the curriculum in such schools is often developed on the basis of the personal preferences of the sponsors, and is not broad and balanced to meet the needs of all children and young people. She noted that free schools are not even required to have an intake of pupils before they open and taxpayers' money is committed.

“There is no evidence that free schools raise standards, she stated. “Children and young people deserve better than to be used as guinea pigs in an ideological experiment.”

Dismantling of system

NUT General Secretary Christine Blower added that “there is no justification for the systematic dismantling of the English education system that we are currently witnessing. We cannot allow something as vital as a free and fair education for all to slip through our fingers unnoticed. The consequences will be extraordinarily damaging, never mind unmanageable.” Where there is a shortage of school places, local authorities are best placed to assess and provide for that need, she said. They, rather than unaccountable free school providers, should be given the resources to do so.

“Schools are desperately short of finances yet money is being found for schools which will educate tiny numbers of children,” Blower said. “Any Secretary of State for Education and Prime Minister, who genuinely cared about the education of all our children, would be seeking to ensure that all existing schools had buildings that were fit for purpose and the resources to provide the highest standards of education for all our children, not just the few.”

Assessment of free schools needed

The NUT will continue to call for a public inquiry into this policy and demand that the Secretary of State publishes the impact assessments for all of the free schools he has approved to-date. “This is a scandalous waste of public money,” she concluded.

EI is committed to the achievement of quality education for all people through publicly funded and regulated systems of education.

“Attacks on the quality of public education are used by those who promote privatisation of aspects of public education systems in order to undermine the public's confidence in public education and to justify cutbacks in public investments,” EI President Susan Hopgood stressed, “The increasing use of public-private partnerships in the public education sector has potential negative consequences for access to, and the democratic control and quality of, public education.”

No commercialisation of education

‘Public-private partnerships may be appealing when initiated as a means of supplementing scarce or non-existent public financial resources if they are set within clearly defined educational goals,’ Hopgood added ‘but, at the same time, public-private partnerships carry with them the risk of reductions in government investment in public education services, and may promote the privatisation and the commercialisation of education.’

“I urge the UK Government to consult social partners whenever it is proposed to use public-private partnerships in the public education sector,” she said.

The Resolution on Quality Education: Present and Future, adopted at the 5th EI World Congress, held in Berlin, Germany, in July 2007, “affirms that the provision of public education is the responsibility of public authorities, which are accountable to the community through democratic governance structures and which mandates them to determine education policy and principles and the regulatory framework within which the education institutions operate”.

It deplores that many international institutions wish to extend privatisation to the social sectors, in particular health and education, and are increasing pressure for withdrawal by the State and cuts in public budgets.

Strong investment in public education requested

The resolution further recalls that EI has consistently campaigned for public education budgets to be allocated at least six per cent of gross national product (GNP).

It also underlines that, in a very large number of comparative studies carried out on the achievements of pupils in the public and private education systems, there is no evidence to support the view that achievements of pupils in the private system are superior to those in the public system, when pupils' socio-economic backgrounds and the selective nature of the private education system, are taken into consideration.

To read the resolution in its entirety, click here.