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5.18 It has been virtually impossible in this country to establish a new state-funded school without local authority support, despite convincing international evidence of the galvanising effect on the whole school system of allowing new entrants in areas where parents are dissatisfied with what is available. We want to see schools like the innovative KIPP, Green Dot and Uncommon schools, all of which are independent charter schools in America, open in this country.
In the US, networks of charter schools have made some remarkable progress in raising attainment, especially in deprived urban areas. Green Dot Charter schools in Los Angeles are designed to be small, safe personalised schools with high expectations for all pupils, local control with extensive professional development and parent participation, maximum funding focused on the classroom and a longer school day. Pupil performance in standardised tests is significantly higher than for other schools serving the same areas86.
Uncommon Schools is a not-for-profit organisation managing 24 Charter Schools in New York City, New York State, Newark, New Jersey and Boston. They have a mission to prepare all students for higher education, high standards for academic attainment and developing students’ character, a highly structured learning environment, a longer school day and longer school year, a focus on accountability and an emphasis on recruiting committed and talented leaders and teachers. In 2010, Uncommon Schools in New York State outperformed the state average and also closed the racial achievement gap – 82 per cent of pupils were found to be advanced or proficient in mathematics, well above the state average of 61 per cent, and the state average for white students of 71 per cent87.
5.19 We too want to support teachers, charities, parent groups, faith organisations and others who have the vision, drive and skills to set up a new school – and to give them the freedoms to try out new approaches and make a real difference in their communities.
5.20 In June 2010, we invited Free School applications of any type or phase (including special schools, alternative provision and 16–19 proposals) from teachers, charities, parents and others. Free Schools will be independent state schools which benefit from all the same freedoms and autonomy as Academies. Over 180 people and organisations have already submitted proposals and so far 25 Free School projects are in the formal business case and planning stage and some will be open as early as September 201188. The projects range from an outstanding young teacher, Sajid Hussein, who has plans to open King’s Science Academy in a poor area of Bradford, to the Stour Valley Community School in Suffolk, which is an example of a community coming together to open the secondary school it wants, and Cuckoo Hall, an outstanding primary school in Enfield, proposing to open a new school.
5.21 In the United States, the most effective Charter Schools are those in states with a carefully designed approval process. Learning from the Charter School experience, we have set up a simple but rigorous approval process. Before a Free School proposal is approved in England, we will carry out rigorous suitability and vetting tests, including the content of the proposals and whether the new school will offer high standards, as well as due diligence and Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks about the organisations and individuals associated with them. We will reject any proposals put forward by organisations or individuals who advocate violence or other illegal activity, or those whose ideology runs counter to the United Kingdom’s traditions of tolerance and our shared democratic values.
5.22 People and organisations wanting to open Free Schools should be actively supported in doing so. We will look to the New Schools Network and others to offer experience and expertise to Free School proposers. Every proposer of a Free School which gets through the initial stage will also have a named Department for Education official who they can contact if they have any questions or difficulties. Department officials will work alongside pioneer Free Schools to iron out any difficulties, and to refine and simplify processes as much as possible, rather than trying to pre-empt every possible issue before the first Free School has opened its door.
5.23 Free Schools will be demand-led, and their geographical distribution will depend on individuals and organisations coming forward to play a role in improving provision in their community. We know from other countries – and from some of the early Free School proposers – that a significant proportion of the proposals will be motivated by the desire to make a difference in disadvantaged areas. We will prioritise such proposals.
5.24 One of the biggest barriers to setting up a new school is securing land and premises. The Department for Communities and Local Government is working with the Department for Education to make it easier to secure land and premises for new schools, and is consulting on changes to planning regulations which will make it easier for schools to be set up in buildings which currently have other uses.
5.25 We will lead the way by supporting new Free Schools to open in buildings that the Department owns or leases. We will also legislate to strengthen controls on the disposal of existing school premises to ensure they can be available for potential Free Schools. All Free Schools will be able to access financial support in order to secure premises where necessary. We have committed to support capital investment in pioneer Free Schools so that they can find and finance the buildings they require quickly.
5.26 We know from countries with the best technical education systems that a more innovative approach to vocational education has a positive impact on standards and the overall quality of provision89. One of the most exciting ways in which Free Schools will drive innovation here in England will be through University Technology Colleges (UTCs) and Studio Schools. Universities, colleges and businesses are forming partnerships to open UTCs. The model was developed by Lord Baker and the late Lord Dearing, and provides a vivid example of the way in which diversity and innovation can raise standards and offer pupils and parents a new approach to education. Each UTC will be sponsored by at least one leading local business and a local higher education institution, and will offer high-quality and high-prestige technical qualifications in shortage subjects, such as engineering. Pupils will combine real practical education with a series of academic GCSEs, to ensure that they have a base of core academic knowledge as well as their technical or vocational qualifications. The JCB Academy in Staffordshire was the forerunner of the UTC model, and plans to become a UTC. We hope that many more will open.
5.27 New Studio Schools will also drive innovation in vocational education as Free Schools. They are 14–19 institutions with an entrepreneurial and vocational focus, catering for students of all abilities who are disengaged by an entirely academic curriculum. Each Studio School will have several business partners connected to one sector of industry. Students will spend part of their week working in these businesses, with older students receiving payment, getting them ready for the world of work while gaining credible qualifications. The first Studio Schools opened in September 2010 in Luton and Kirklees and we expect that many more will open.
In the US, one of the most successful networks of Charter Schools is the Knowledge is Power Programme, a nationwide network providing a high-quality education to the children of deprived urban communities. Susan Schaeffler, who began her career as a teacher with the Teach for America programme, founded a KIPP school in Washington DC in 2001. Susan explains her motivation for applying to establish the school: ‘I wanted to set up a charter school primarily because I believed in the benefits an extended day could offer. The current public school system does not allow for extended learning time so I decided to best serve the students of DC, I would open up a KIPP network in DC. In addition, I wanted to create a school with a strong school culture that encourages teachers to have a ‘whatever it takes’ attitude. For instance, my teachers are available to students by phone during weekday evenings to help with homework and dedicate weekend time to Saturday school activities.’
KIPP DC has now expanded to eight schools from pre-school through to high school and serves over 2,100 students, 99 per cent of whom are African American and among the most disadvantaged pupils in Washington DC. Over 83 per cent qualify for the free or reduced price lunch programme, yet 100 per cent graduate from high school in the standard five years. Currently 72 per cent of the class of 2009 are still pursuing their college degrees and 80 per cent of the class of 2010 are beginning college this year90.
Of KIPP’s success, Susan says, ‘we are proving what’s possible. We’re demonstrating what the kids in DC are capable of. We are raising the bar for education in our city.’
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