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Article published 29th August 2011

Is someone near you putting together a Free School?

It's a very tempting prospect: a school that is created by its community,  that you can play a part in shaping, that suits you rather than the educational establishment. We have a couple of planned Free Schools near us - a secondary that is just out of reach and a primary that our daughter will be too old for when it gets going. Rats.

But if you have a Free School close by, how do you judge a school that, in many cases you can't yet visit, with no results to show or current parents to consult?

Prospectus promises and pitfalls

The prospectus is a work of fiction. Who knows how things will turn out?

So pay more attention to the spirit of the prospectus than to the promises it contains.

  • Are the school's ambitions in tune with yours?
  • Are they grounded or tenuous?
  • What does the prospectus reveal of the school's attitude to parents, and to children's wellbeing?
  • What is the focus and breadth of the curriculum?
  • Are they committed to getting your child on to the sort of secondary school or university that you have in mind?

Your child and the school will be setting out on a journey together – they’ll have to be in tune to make it a happy one.

Scrutinise leadership

As the boat exists only on paper, pay most attention to the crew.

The head should have a strong CV, a clear vision of where he or she wants to take the school. A leader, then – but not just any leader. One who will be good in the crises that you should expect to hit a new school.

Look at the governors too: they have to provide the experience and judgement. And if they have appointed a teacher or two, spend some time with them: if the school is to be a good school it should be recruiting the best.

Taking the plunge with Free Schools

If you choose to give a Free School a go, keep your critical senses sharp. It is hard enough to make a success of an established school. Have a Plan B, and don’t be afraid to use it. But being part of a new school is a great adventure, inspiring and involving, and could make a real difference to the future of your children.

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