This evening, plans for a new free school will be thrashed out by councillors.

The proposal, which appeared on the front page of The Argus on Tuesday, will be discussed at Brighton and Hove City Council’s policy and resources committee, starting at 4pm.

The school is expected to cater for 200 students per year group – making it a 1,000-plus capacity school – while the opening date is set for September 2018.

Crucially, the school will be a free school, meaning it is independent and funded directly by the Government and not controlled by the local authority, while its proposed backer is the University of Brighton.

Ahead of this evening’s meeting, two people give their differing opinions on free schools.


Conservative councillor Andrew Wealls, opposition spokesman on the children and young people committee

Free schools wouldn’t exist if no one wanted them.

The policy has enabled parents, teachers, charities and universities to set up schools to meet a need they have identified for children in their area.

The vast majority have been set up in areas where there is a basic need for places, but some have been set up where there is a demand for an alternative or innovative type of education.

Our own Bilingual Primary School is the only bilingual facility in the city.

After years of local authority control, there has been no such innovation; and now we do.

King’s School [another free school in Brighton] brings an additional Christian secondary choice to our city.

It’s easy for critics to pick out examples of free schools which haven’t succeeded, but examples of failing schools exist in local authority schools and academies too.

Policy exchange’s research paper ‘A Rising Tide’, found that the competitive effect created by a free school leads to improved academic standards in nearby underperforming schools.

In every year apart from 2010, the opening of a free school is associated with substantial improvements of the lowest-performing primary schools nearby.

At secondary level, the opening of a free school is associated with improvements for all secondary schools with below average results.

Nationally, the latest round of free school announcements brings innovation and choice to many groups, previously poorly served by mainstream schools, whether academies or free schools.

For example, The Campus free school will help up to 30 Haringey teenagers caught up in the cycle of crime to gain valuable qualifications, while giving them the support needed to avoid reoffending.

The successful Parkside Community Trust will open The Wherry, a new all-through special school in Norfolk that will cater for 100 autistic pupils and The Logic Studio School in Hounslow will specialise in computing technologies and international logistics.

We need more of this innovation in Brighton and Hove and embracing free schools can help us to deliver it.


Alasdair Smith, national secretary of the Anti Academies Alliance

Brighton and Hove City Council has announced a free school may open in the city.

Free schools are contentious.

A recent You Gov poll found that three quarters of voters oppose the opening of more free schools.

Free schools are divisive. Research shows that free school pupils are less likely to be entitled to free school meals than pupils in neighbouring schools. The Government may want to reject accusations that free schools are the preserve of the middle-classes but many commentators agree that even where free schools have opened in deprived areas they are still not taking the most disadvantaged children.

Nor are free schools effective or value for money.

The Public Accounts Committee has concluded: “The ... oversight arrangements for free schools are not yet working effectively to ensure that public money is used properly’.

More than £1 billion has already had to be found from other school budgets to fund the over spend on the few free schools that have opened.

Even Education Minister David Laws now admits that plans for 500 new free schools would mean ‘a £4 billion raid on other budgets, consigning children and teachers to crumbling classrooms and leaving some without a school place at all’.

Advocates for free schools argue that competition improves the performance of all schools. But the data simply doesn’t support this argument.

Ofsted has found that free schools are no more likely to be outstanding or inadequate than other schools and the overall results in areas with free schools are remarkably similar to the results of all schools nationally.

Councillor Sue Shanks, chairwoman of the children and young people committee, said in September: “Academies take education away from local democratic oversight.

“We believe that schools are most likely to improve when they are part of a local authority family, sharing best practice and training.”

And this is as true for free schools as it is for academies.

So is a free school the best option for the city? Would a free school offer the local accountability and excellent education? It is doubtful.

Meanwhile, four out of every five primary schools are still maintained by their local councils and, according to Ofsted, thriving. Free schools have nothing to do with parental choice.

Competition and deregulation doesn’t improve schools. Most parents aren’t interested in markets and phony neo-liberal ideology. They simply want a good local school for their children.