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Hundreds of teachers, charities and parents gather for first ever free schools conference

Michael Gove addresses conference with US education experts and teachers who have set up charter schools.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

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Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, will tomorrow (29 January 2011) address hundreds of teachers, charities and parents at the first ever free schools conference. He will be joined by US education experts and teachers who have set up charter schools. Charter schools are the US equivalent of free schools. They have been championed by both President Barack Obama and Republicans such as Jeb Bush as a way of improving education for the poorest in society.

The conference comes as new figures show increasing demand from teachers, parents and charities wanting to set up schools.

The coalition government announced that:

  • there have now been 249 proposals from groups keen to set up a free school
  • 35 groups have now progressed to the next stage of the process and are developing a full business case and plan.

The Free Schools conference will bring together ministers with around 400 teachers, charities, parents and other groups from across the country who are planning to set up Free Schools. It will be an opportunity for the groups to learn from successful charter schools in the US and there will be workshops on setting up Free Schools run during the day.

Attending alongside Michael Gove will be Mike Feinberg from the Knowledge is Power Programme (KIPP), one of the most successful chains of charter schools in America. Mike is a teacher who decided to set up a charter school in inner city Houston. It was so successful that there are now 99 KIPP charter schools across the US, all providing a high quality education in the most deprived areas.

Joel Klein, former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, will also be speaking at the conference. Joel is a former adviser to President Bill Clinton. He championed the charter schools in his time in office and successfully improved the education of thousands of underprivileged children.

Michael Gove said:

A good school can transform a child’s life and help them achieve things they may never have imagined. In this country, too often it is the poorest children who miss out while richer families can buy their way to good education via private schools or expensive houses. Free Schools will give all parents the option of a good local school with great teaching, strong discipline and small class sizes.

Mike Feinberg, co-founder of KIPP, said:

We wanted to give students in under-served communities an opportunity for success in life. That goal led us to founding the Knowledge is Power Programme (KIPP) in 1994. There are now 99 schools across America that give children from low-income families a better education, proving that demographics do not define destiny. I’m excited that Free Schools will be opening up in England and offering the same possibilities.

Joel Klein, former Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, said:

Charter schools have given thousands of underprivileged children across America a better start in life - providing them with an education that previously was simply not available to them. I’m excited by the opportunities that Free Schools will give children of all backgrounds in England and I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences on how to achieve this at the conference.

Karinne Kennedy, mother of Calvin at the SEED Charter School in Washington DC, said:

In 2004, I was faced with finding a suitable and safe school environment for my son Calvin, who was graduating from elementary to middle school. I live in Ward 8 in Washington, D.C., which is the poorest ward in the district.

I had heard about the new charter schools that were popping up all around the city. The mother of my son’s best friend told me about the SEED School. She explained that it was a college preparatory boarding school for D.C. students and that it was free of charge.

My son has been at SEED for six years now, and my daughter also attends. Since then, my son Calvin has made honour roll several times, he participated with the Greek scholars and earned a trip to Greece. His list of achievements goes on and on and I have to attribute that to my partnership with SEED.

Mark Lehain, a teacher and the lead proposer for Bedford & Kempston Free School, said:

We believe every child, regardless of their background, should be able to get a really good set of exam results by the time they are 16. We feel the only way you can do that is to give parents more choice in the kind of schools their kids have and, we think for a lot of kids, ours is the type of school their parents will want for them.

Patricia Sowter, headteacher of Cuckoo Hall Academy and the lead proposer for Woodpecker Hall Free School, said:

Michael Gove spoke about narrowing the attainment gaps. That’s absolutely our overarching ethos of opening this new school - to narrow the gaps for those children that are poorer and we know fall behind from a very early age, making a difference to those children in communities where it’s most needed.

Andrew Snowdon, lead proposer for Discovery New School, said:

We believe that choice is important and that parents have a right to select a school that suits them and their child. Parents and teachers know that small classes and talented teachers with greater freedom in the classroom will make a difference.

Penny Roberts, former teacher and leading the proposal for St Luke’s Primary School, said:

I’ve been through the process of applying for primary school places for my own children and I know the anguish that parents go through when there just are not enough primary school places, so for us it’s just a wonderful way to meet a community need.

Free Schools will be set up by a wide range of proposers including charities, educational groups, teachers and groups of parents. They are set up in response to parental demand. They will improve choice and drive up standards for all young people, regardless of their background. Like charter schools, these new schools will enjoy the same freedoms and flexibilities as academies.

 Notes for editors

  1. Media are invited to attend the morning session of the conference where the Secretary of State, Joel Klein, Mike Feinberg and Karinne Kennedy will be giving speeches.

  2. The lives of disadvantaged children have been transformed by charter schools set up by teachers in deprived areas in the US. President Obama is highly supportive of the policy and is looking to expand the number of charter schools. The best academic research shows that the setting up of new schools can greatly improve school standards for all children. In New York, charter schools have dramatically closed the gap between the performance of students in inner-city neighbourhoods and those from the wealthiest suburbs. The vast majority that have benefited from these schools have been the poorest children.

  3. One of the most successful chains of charter schools is the Knowledge Is Power Programme schools (KIPP). Nationally more than 85 per cent of KIPP students have gone on to college despite over 80 per cent of students coming from low income families with children on free or reduced-price meals.

Aaron Brenner, KIPP Houston, said:

Charters with a strong academic and cultural foundation provide what our children and communities need in order to be successful as students and as citizens. These types of charter schools develop our children’s knowledge, skills and character to a point where they will successfully enter and graduate from college; and be in a position to be an active citizen and leader in their respective communities and society. With this type of focus, charters will continue to make a powerful and positive impact on families and communities across the world.

We are hoping that as representatives of KIPP Houston, we will be able to share what has worked and what has not worked through the lens of founders and leaders. We truly believe that education for all is an international problem and charter-like schools and networks are one piece of the solution.

Paul Castro, KIPP Houston, said:

Charter schools create opportunities for students through choice. The power of a charter school is the way in which we empower the teachers and school leaders to create systems and cultures that meet the needs of their learners.

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Published 28 January 2011