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Clash over value of free schools in East Lancashire
FREE school headteachers and union leaders are backing calls for greater financial scrutiny of the free school system.
However, Queen Elizabeth Grammar School headteacher Simon Corns warned that national teething problems should not prejudice people against all free schools.
In contrast, Blackburn and Lancashire’s NUT leader Simon Jones claimed recent news of an overspend on free schools showed the entire system was flawed.
It comes after a row escalated within the coalition government over Lib Dem claims of an £800million ‘black hole’ due to spending on free schools.
It has led to concerns over the knock-on effect on spending of local authority schools.
However, David Cameron backed Education Secretary Michael Gove calling free schools ‘an excellent innovation’. QEGS in Blackburn made national headlines as one of Britain’s oldest private schools set to ditch its £10,000 annual fees and become a free school from September this year.
Mr Corns said he was fully behind a review of the spending on free schools. He said: “There’s an unfortunate tendency to have a knee-jerk reaction of fear whenever anything new is introduced. Clearly, there have been free school successes but there’s been a habit of seeking out the failures and presenting those as the norm.
“There should be full scrutiny of the finances and how the money is benefiting children in all areas. People have got to give the scheme a chance, rather than shutting up shop at the first sign of teething problems.
“That’s not to say money should be wasted but it should be remembered it’s at an early stage as regards to spending.”
NUT representative Mr Jones said: “It is abundantly clear that Michael Gove’s pet project is wasting huge sums of public money.
“This experimentation with our education is unnecessary and expensive.
“There must be a return to proper local authority planning of new schools places based on need with Government financing the system through a transparent and accountable process.”
Free schools are set up by independent groups and trusts but funded, per pupil, directly by central government independent of local authorities.
They are not allowed to make a profit and have increased control over their curriculum, teachers' pay and the length of school terms and days.
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