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Government tightens free school rules

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The government is set to tighten up the application process for the founding of ‘free schools’ following higher-than-expected demand

The Department for Education has so far received 323 proposals for free schools, with 41 approved to move to business case and planning stage or beyond.

Some of the proposed new schools could open as early as September this year. They will be state funded and outside of local authority control.

Groups wishing to apply have been told that instead of submitting a broad-brush plan, they must present an outline business case before being eligible for grants of up to £200,000 to help with planning.

Under the new rules, applicants would also have to submit their proposals by a set deadline.

The proposals will ‘require detailed and robust responses’ to questions about things like parental demand, the type of education the school will provide, its ethos and the capacity and capability of the groups themselves.

Groups that meet minimum requirements will then be judged against each other and scored on the strength of their proposals.

Interview panels will be made up of Department for Education officials, financial experts, education advisers, head teachers and organisations with a track record of setting up and running schools.

Pascale Scheurer of Surface to Air Architects said the restrictions would have little impact on the ability of architects to play a role in setting up free schools.

She said: ‘Some people had the impression Michael Gove was dishing out pots of cash to all comers. This was not the case.’

However, Scheurer added, the reform would make it ‘far more likely’ that free schools follow a ‘prescribed route’ such as partnering for education and management services with an established Academies provider or procuring ‘design/construction/PM services’ via the Academies Framework.

She said: ‘We anticipate some cases of rogue “radical second wave” Free Schools, but they will be the exception. There’s not much radical [thinking] in first wave.

‘I wouldn’t hold much hope for exciting architecture, but there is opportunity for RIBA-registered Client Design Advisers to get work, mainly via existing contacts. We’ve got a big project this way and potentially more in pipeline.

‘The timescales are a challenge, but the clients really benefit from this type of strategic support at critical business plan and pre-procurement stages while Partnership for schools recognises the value of professional support for inexperienced clients.’

In Feburary education secretary Michael Gove singled out Richard Rogers and ‘award-winning architects’ in an unprovoked outburst against the profession, vowing to deny them them any role in the growing, government-backed Free School movement.


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