Secret Teacher: we need evidence on free schools, not blind faith

The Secert Teacher in The Guardian says, ‘I was full of optimism when I took a job at a free school, but we couldn’t give students the education they deserved. Politicians must start listening to concerns.’

Like many teachers, I’ve experienced intermittent bouts of disillusionment with an education system that can, at times, seem to embody an exam factory. Convinced that there was something better out there, a few years ago I trawled through job adverts in an attempt to find a school that approached education differently. I decided to look at new schools. That way, I figured, I’d be part of building something from the bottom up. So I took a teaching post at a free school that had been open for just under a year.

I wasn’t alone in my thinking. Several other teachers had also decided to embark on what they assumed would be an exciting challenge. We met and quickly realised that while our experience varied significantly – ranging from NQTs to experienced teachers – we all had one thing in common: optimism about the task ahead. We eagerly anticipated the start of term, but when September arrived it became clear that we’d misjudged the situation and made a terrible mistake.

Some subjects didn’t have subject teachers, and unqualified teachers were employed in their place – something that happens at a higher rate in free schools than other schools. Usually these were graduate students who were keen to gain teaching experience before they took up places on teacher training courses.

I don’t pretend this is representative of what goes on in the majority of free schools, but 16 have already been closed down. And while the quality of free schools undoubtedly varies between regions, considering the area where my former school is located sets alarm bells ringing.

The economic argument against free schools is clear; the public accounts committee reported in April that the creation of new free school places costs significantly more than the creation of places by local authorities. And while free schools were introduced with the intention of driving up education standards by increasing innovation and diversity in our education system and encouraging competition between schools, a report published by the National Audit Office in February confirmed that the DfE has not been able to determine whether they are having the intended effect.

With no clear evidence that the programme is working, and serious concerns raised by teachers, local authorities and teaching unions, it is time for politicians to abandon their blind faith in free schools and listen to the experts. We need detailed local impact studies on the efficacy of free schools before any more children lose out.

Read the full article Secret Teacher: we need evidence on free schools, not blind faith

Have you had experience of working in a free school? Was it similar to this or had it worked ? Please tell us your thought in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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