A statement in response to public comments regarding academies, free schools, faith schools and the curriculum.
We welcome the public comments made in response to the schools agenda set out in ‘The Coalition: Our Programme for Government’ (which covers policy for schools in England only). Although we will be reflecting on all the comments made, there were some recurring issues we would like to address immediately.
Firstly, we have noted your concerns about the introduction of Free Schools. We need to reform our education system if we are to accelerate improvement to keep pace with the highest performing systems of the world and ensure that every pupil growing up in this country gets a better chance of achieving their potential. For instance, in America the highly successful Knowledge Is Power programme (a chain of charter schools) has extended the freedom to focus on traditional subjects, set a longer and more fulfilling school day, and recruit and reward the best teachers. The result has been that more than 85 per cent of students have gone on to college despite the vast majority of students coming from low-income families, while the attainment gap between black and white children has also narrowed significantly.
Through the Academies Bill, we are now inviting all schools to apply for academy freedoms. We are also liberating professionals to drive improvement across the system by expecting every outstanding school that acquires academy freedoms to partner with at least one other school, so that the strong support the weak in a concerted effort to drive improvement across the board. Where there is sufficient demand, we will also make it easier for teachers, parents and charities to set up their own Free Schools, which will improve parental choice and help to drive up standards for all pupils.
We don’t believe the necessary reform can come from yet more expensive top-down initiatives from politicians in Whitehall. It can only come from giving much more autonomy to professionals - headteachers, teachers, support staff and governors - so that they have the freedom to transform our education system. This means giving more freedom to existing schools but also giving professionals the right to open new schools where there is the opportunity to innovate in the best interests of children. Tackling educational inequality is at the heart of the Coalition Government’s approach so our pupil premium will also ensure that more resources are targeted on the poorest children.
We also noted the area of curriculum was a core concern for many of you and we recognise these concerns. We will announce details of a curriculum review in due course. We intend to give schools greater freedom over the curriculum by restoring the National Curriculum to its original purpose - a core national entitlement organised around subject disciplines. The review will be open and transparent and we will consult widely. In addition, we noted your concerns about sex and relationship education in schools and we would like to reassure you that we will be considering this area in the coming months.
We had a wide variety of comments both in favour and against faith schools. On this issue, the government believes all children, regardless of faith or background, should have access to a good education. We believe it is only fair that pupils of all faiths have opportunities to be educated in accordance with the wishes of their parents. We aim to build a diverse system that reflects parents’ needs and choice and we believe the Free Schools programme helps support this. Where an entirely new faith Free School or academy is set up - that has no predecessor school - the school will be required to adopt admission criteria that will ensure, if it is oversubscribed, 50 per cent of its intake of children will be admitted without reference to faith. This will ensure any new faith academies cater not only for faith demand, but also for broader local demand.
Our draft structural reform plan outlines our key priorities for the medium term. It has been published online and we are inviting the public to view and challenge all of our key priorities throughout the coming year, including dates for completion.
We remain committed to listening to the public’s views and we will be using the comments you have made to inform the vision we will set out in our Schools White Paper to be published in the autumn.
Central newsdesk 020 7783 8300
General enquiries 0370 000 2288