Free schools: The debate continues

Secondary free schools seem to be performing well, but remain less likely to be set-up in areas with historic low attainment. Chris Parr looks at the findings of recent research

Since their arrival on the education scene in 2010, free schools have been controversial. While ministers believe they can drive up standards by increasing competition, critics claim that they fuel social segregation and syphon public money away from other underfunded institutions.

For some, the close association of the free school programme with Michael Gove, a perennially unpopular education secretary, is enough to induce negative perceptions.

But with the recent Queen’s Speech confirming that a further 220 free schools are set to be opened by the government, and education secretary Gavin Williamson stating that such schools are “transforming education for children all over the country, wherever they live” (DfE, 2019), it is important to consider the evidence.

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