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Third of new free schools are religious

Third of new free schools are religious

The Guardian |by Jeevan Vasagar, education editor on July 13, 2012

Education secretary, Michael Gove, at the Woodpecker Hall Primary Academy free school in London

Education secretary Michael Gove, seen at the Woodpecker Hall Primary Academy, says free schools are driving up standards. Photograph: Eddie Mulholland/Rex Features

A third of the free schools approved by the government to open from September 2013 onwards characterise themselves as faith schools, compared with a quarter of the first wave.

More than 100 new free schools were announced on Friday, including 33 that describe themselves as religious, 20 of which are designated faith schools and will be able to select some pupils on this basis.

Faith organisations have an advantage over parent groups in setting up free schools as they often have access to property, such as a church hall, and can swiftly mobilise community resources.

Of the first wave of 24 free schools that opened last September, six were faith schools, including two Jewish schools in London, a Hindu school in Leicester and a Sikh school in Birmingham.

A total of 102 free-school applications have been approved to open from next year. These include one backed by Manchester City football club and five private schools converting to the state sector. In all, 59 schools are being set up by teachers, existing schools and educational organisations, including the five private ones.

During a school visit later on Friday, David Cameron said: “The free schools revolution was built on a simple idea: open up our schools to new providers. And use the competition that results to drive up standards across the system. Get behind parents, charities and committed teachers who are trying to make things better. And give them the freedoms they need to transform our education system.”

The number of free schools opened so far has been modest; a further 50 are expected to open in September.

The schools that have won approval in the latest round include the Connell sixth form college, a co-educational school being set up by Altrincham Grammar School for Girls and backed by Manchester City. The club will provide access to its football pitches.

The Collective Spirit school in Oldham will be a “faith sensitive” school that does not select on the basis of religion but aims to build community cohesion. The East London science college, which will be based in Tower Hamlets or Newham, is being set up by a teacher group led by David Perks, founder of the Physics Factory charity, which campaigns to encourage the study of physics.

The Big Life group, which is responsible for the Big Issue in the north of England, is behind a plan to open a primary school in Longsight, Manchester.

The new schools include 85 mainstream institutions. Of these, 40 are primary, 28 are secondary and 10 are “all-through”. The rest are for different age ranges, including sixth formers.

There are five schools for children with special needs and 12 “alternative provision” schools, for children who cannot attend mainstream schools. The Harris Federation, an academy sponsor, will open one of these in Croydon or Bromley. will cater for 90 pupils, including excluded children and teenage parents.

There will be two schools backed by universities, the Marine academy primary in Plymouth and the University of Birmingham school and sixth form in Birmingham.

The education secretary, Michael Gove, said: “Free schools are driving up standards across the country. Now more and more groups are taking advantage of the freedoms we’ve offered to create wonderful new schools.”

Rachel Wolf, director of the New Schools Network, the charity that advises groups wanting to set up new schools, said the announcement meant the free-schools programme was on its way to delivering a “great new school for every community”.

Gove made a similar promise ahead of the general election, but has since declined to give a target.

Wolf said: “We are excited that such a large proportion of the schools are coming from within the education sector. With over half of the groups approved today being school-led, the profession is voting with its feet. Teachers across the country are recognising that free schools give them the opportunity to set up and run schools as they see fit, without being encumbered by unnecessary process and bureaucratic controls.”

Christine Blower, general secretary of the teachers’ union NUT, said free schools were “neither wanted nor needed”.

It emerged last month that the Beccles free school in Suffolk had just 37 applications for children to start this September, despite originally planning to open with places for more than 300.

Riverside Co-operative

The Riverside Co-operative will be one of the biggest free schools when it opens in the east London development of Barking Riverside, catering for around 1,800 children when at full capacity.

The school will be split into three “mini schools” for children of different abilities. There will be a “grammar school” stream for the most academically able, who will study for the English baccalaureate and be expected to take A-levels and go on to university. A second “mini school” will offer a mix of academic and applied learning, combining GCSEs with vocational education. A third, for children who arrive at school below the expected level for their age, will focus on literacy, numeracy and social skills.

Children will be able to transfer between the three streams at the end of each year, and the most academic “mini school” is expected to be the largest, catering for half of pupils.

Roger Leighton, executive head of the school, said: “Our aim is to have flexibility between the three mini schools, rather than the old [grammar school] system of total separation and a clear break at the age of 11.”

Longsight school

One of the free schools approved on Friday is backed by the Big Life group, the social enterprise behind the Big Issue in the north of England.

The group is working with parents to set up an 189-place primary school in Longsight, a deprived area of Manchester where there is a shortage of school places.

The Big Life group, which already manages a children’s centre in the area, said it had supported more than 20 families with appeals for school places, and more than 40 families had asked for support finding a place. Manchester city council has already had to set up three temporary classes in the area as a population boom has squeezed schools.

Fay Selvan, chief executive of the Big Life group, said: “It’s an area which has a lot of new migrants, a community which finds it hard to access school places.

“More traditional communities have got more established links to schools, such as through siblings. They are the people most affected by not having enough primary school places.”

Alongside education, the school will provide volunteering opportunities to parents, and training which leads to teaching and childcare qualifications.

The school will encourage parental involvement through morning reading sessions and its curriculum will focus on language development. It will also offer maths, science, ICT and PE as discrete subjects.

In its first year the school will offer 27 reception places,  15 year-one places and 10 year-two places, growing to a total of 189 places for children from reception age to year 6 by 2019.

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Free schools campaigners celebrate freedom of information victory

Free schools campaigners celebrate freedom of information victory

guardian.co.uk |by Hélène Mulholland on July 6, 2012

schoolchildren sitting exams

Free schools victory – Disclosure could lead to speculation about why a proposal was unsuccessful, the education department has warned. Photograph: Bubbles/Alamy

The Department for Education has been ordered to release details of all proposals to establish free schools, after a complaint by the British Humanist Association over an unsuccessful freedom of information (FOI) request lodged in June last year.

The BHA asked for the release of the information amid concerns that the additional freedoms afforded to free schools could lead to a rise in religious discrimination within the state-funded sector, and see a growth in what it considers “evangelical and pseudoscientific schools”.

It argued that since applications were only known once successful, the public had been denied a chance to scrutinise the bids, and requested a list of all free school proposals – including unsuccessful ones – in the first and second wave since the policy was introduced in 2010.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) ruled there were “very strong” public interest grounds to publish.

Education secretary Michael Gove’s department argued against disclosure under a section of the FOI Act, initially on the grounds that such a move would be “prejudice of effective conduct of public affairs”. The DfE subsequently argued for exemption on the grounds that the information related to the formulation or development of government policy.

The department argued that unsuccessful proposals could be improved and successfully resubmitted and that the release of earlier failed proposals could attract negative publicity and deter proposers, thereby reducing choice for parents and pupils.

Disclosure could also lead to speculation about why a proposal was unsuccessful, such as whether the proposed area or religious character of the school was a factor, and this could increase local tensions and deter other proposals, said the DfE.

But the ICO said the public interest factors in favour of disclosure were “very strong”.

“The withheld information relates to the practical application of a new national education policy and the expenditure of public money,” the decision notice stated. “There is a very strong public interest in providing the public with information about free school applications, both on a national and local level. The disclosure of this information would help to increase the transparency of the programme, help public understanding and enable participation.”

While acknowledging there were valid public interest arguments for maintaining the exemption, it concluded these were outweighed.

BHA faith schools campaigner Richy Thompson welcomed the ruling. “The BHA campaigns against state-funded faith schools, and an important part of being able to do this effectively is being able to identify who is applying to set them up,” he said. “This year we have been trying to identify all free school applications, but have only been able to identify about two-fifths of the groups that applied – the majority of groups are simply unknown to the public at large.

“It is hard to know how the public is able to scrutinise these proposals if we don’t even know about them in the first place. By the time free schools are ‘pre-approved’ to open by the DfE and publicly listed, it is often too late to stop them.”

The DfE has 35 days to comply or appeal. A spokesperson said: “We are currently considering the ICO’s decision, and will respond in due course.”

The decision follows a separate ruling in May instructing the DfE to publish a list of proposed university technical colleges and 16-19 free schools.

Church Of England Aims For 200 New Anglican Schools Over Five Years

Church of England aims for 200 new Anglican schools over five years

The Guardian World News |by Jessica Shepherd

Church of England aims for 200 new Anglican schools over five years

Lady Warsi last month warned of what she called the ‘militant secularisation’ of society. A review into the Church’s role in education now argues Christian culture in schools should be protected against ‘aggressive secularism’. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

At least 200 Anglican primary and secondary schools could be established over the next five years as the Church expands its role in education.

The Church plans to take advantage of the coalition’s academies and free schools reforms, which take schools out of local authority control and places them with parents, firms, charities and faith groups.

A review led by the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev John Pritchard, who is also chairman of the Church’s board of education, said the number of Anglican schools – currently 4,800 – could rise to 5,000.

Free school groups and other state schools have already started to approach dioceses because they feel their ethos is similar to that of Anglican schools, the review – The Church School of the Future – states.

The report recommends that in future, dioceses could offer services to schools to replace those previously provided by local authorities until their budgets were cut and their role reduced.

Pritchard also called for the Christian culture and ethos in Anglican schools to be protected “against a rising tide of strident opposition” and the “onset of so-called ‘aggressive secularism’.”

Dr Priscilla Chadwick, a former headteacher who chaired a six-month review that led to the report, added that the public’s“default understanding of Christianity was disappearing”. Last month, the Tory party chairman, Lady Warsi, warned of what she called the “militant secularisation” of society and proposed that Christianity was given a central role in public life.

The Church’s review also warns that ministers are sidelining religious education from the curriculum.

The subject faces “multiple challenges” and the government has“no will” to address them, it argues. The English Baccalaureate, introduced in school league tables last year, recognises pupils who have achieved a grade C or better in English, maths, history or geography, sciences and a language. RE’s absence from the Ebacc is disappointing, and has led to fewer pupils taking the subject, the Church said.

“While the Church of England has received some encouragement to work together with other partners to address some of the issues related to religious education, the responses of the government to these concerns have been disappointing,” its report states.

The Department of Education said pupils still had to study RE up to the age of 18. “It is rightly down to schools themselves to make sure pupils take the exams right for them and decide how much teaching time to devote to RE – not politicians in Whitehall.”

Church schools shun poorest pupils

Church schools shun poorest pupils

The Guardian World News |by Jessica Shepherd 5 MARCH 2012

st john's primary school in croydon.

St John’s Church of England primary school in Croydon, south London, has 7% of pupils eligible for free meals. The proportion in the borough is 24%. Photograph: Frank Baron for the Guardian

England’s faith state schools are failing to mirror their local communities by shunning the poorest pupils in their area, analysis by the Guardian of the latest government figures shows.

The Roman Catholic church, which has repeatedly insisted its schools are inclusive, comes out particularly badly in the examination of data published by the Department for Education (DfE) last month and in December. Three-quarters of Catholic primary and secondary schools have a more affluent mix of pupils than their local area.

The figures also reveal that most Church of England (CofE) primary schools have an intake that is untypically affluent and more middle-class than a year ago. The findings will fuel claims that faith schools have been picking pupils from well-off families by selecting on the basis of religion.

The Guardian analysed the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals – a key indicator of poverty – in each of England’s 19,534 state, non-selective primary and secondary schools. All schools designated for children with special needs were taken out.

The schools have been grouped according to whether they are affiliated to the CofE, the Catholic church or have no religious character. The number of state-funded Muslim and Jewish schools is too small to form a meaningful group – however, the 11 state-funded Muslim schools in England are collectively more reflective of their community, with 67% of primaries and 60% of secondaries having more than the local authority average of free school meal pupils. The 36 Jewish state schools on average have less representation of pupils on free school meals than their local area. There are many Christian schools connected to other denominations, but the data does not specify which denomination.

The proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals in each CofE, Catholic or non-religious school was compared with the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals in their local authority and among all the comparable schools in the same postcode area.

It is well-known that the average proportion of deprived pupils in faith schools is lower than it is for all schools in England. However, it has not until now been clear whether this is a facet of the areas they serve. Our analysis shows for the first time the extent to which faith and non-faith schools reflect – or fail to reflect – the proportion of poor pupils in their area.

The vast majority of Catholic primary and secondary schools fail to mirror the proportion of poor pupils living in their community, the data reveals. The Catholic church has fought successful battles to retain control of admissions to its schools.

Some 73% of Catholic primaries and 72% of Catholic secondaries have a lower proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than the average for the local authority.

It is the same for CofE primary and secondary schools. Some 74% of these primaries and 65.5% of secondaries have a smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than is average for the local authority.

In contrast, non-religious schools tend to reflect their neighbourhoods. Half (51%) of non-religious primaries and 45% of non-religious secondaries have a smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than is representative for their local authority.

Faith schools fared no better when examined at a more local level. We compared the proportion of poor pupils in each postcode with the proportion of poor pupils in faith schools and non-faith schools studying in that postcode. The data shows 76% of Catholic primaries and 65% of Catholic secondaries have a smaller proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals than is representative of their postcode. This is the case for 63.5% of CofE primaries and 40% of CofE secondaries.

Non-religious primaries and secondaries are far more likely to mirror the proportion of poor pupils in their postcode – just 47% of non-faith primaries and 29% of non-faith secondaries take a smaller proportion of free school meals than is representative for their postcode.

Anna Vignoles, a professor of the economics of education at the Institute of Education, University of London, said the Guardian’s findings could be explained by the fact that faith schools draw their pupils from their faith communities, which are not necessarily located in the same postcode or area as their school.

A study by Dr Rebecca Allen and Professor Anne West of the Institute of Education and the London School of Economics, published in 2011, showed that middle class parents are more likely to apply to faith schools – and that the admissions procedures there are easier for them to navigate.

Our data also shows that CofE primary schools are increasingly serving the better-heeled in their communities.

Whereas this year 74% of the church’s primaries have a smaller proportion of the poorest pupils than their local authority, the year before 72% did.

At a more local level, the same is the case. This year, 63.5% of the church’s primaries have a smaller proportion of the poorest pupils than their postcode, compared to 60% last year.

Maeve McCormack, policy manager at the Catholic Education Service, said Catholic schools appeared not to reflect their communities in our data because their catchment areas were geographically wider than the postcode or local authority where the schools were situated.

She said separate figures from the DfE showed 18.6% of pupils at Catholic primary schools live in the 10% most deprived areas of England, compared with only 14.3% of primary school pupils nationally. Some 17% of pupils at Catholic schools lived in the 10% most deprived areas compared to 12% of pupils nationally.

The DfE calculates the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals based on how many families apply for this benefit. McCormack said that because there was a “cultural stigma” attached to claiming free school meals, fewer than the expected number of pupils were reported to be on the benefit.

A spokesman for the CofE said local authorities controlled the admissions of more than half its schools. The church rejected the idea that those schools that controlled their own admissions were failing to mirror their local communities.

“The current government agenda to narrow the differential attainment between groups was the priority of the founders of church school education 200 years ago, when providing a basic education for the poor was not seen as a state responsibility,” the spokesman said.

“This remains the driver for all that we continue to do today. That is why the church is the largest sponsor of academies, mostly in deprived areas where the schools had a history of under-performance.

“These academies have opened up new opportunities and new life chances for nearly 45,000 young people, all living in disadvantaged areas – a clear example of the outworking of the church’s mission in education.”

Richy Thompson from the British Humanist Associationsaid the data gave “further cause for concern that allowing religious discrimination within our state system exacerbates socioeconomic inequality as well as being religiously and ethnically divisive”.

He said: “We urge the government to end faith-based selection in all state-funded schools.”

Our analysis found some particularly egregious examples of schools – both Catholic and CofE – that take far fewer numbers of pupils eligible for free school meals than is representative of their area.

In St John’s Church of England primary in Croydon, south London, just 7% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, compared with 29% across the postcode and 24% across the local authority.

Meanwhile, at St James’s Catholic primary school in Richmond, south-west London, only 1% of pupils are eligible for free school meals, compared with 10% across the postcode and local authority.

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