‘Only a third of adults even approve of state funding for faith schools, over half actively disapprove, and no more than a quarter of parents would be happy to send their children to a faith school.' Illustration by Matt Kenyon
There are layers of murk beneath the free school and academisation process that would make anybody with any sense avert their eyes. They are too new to make sense of, and too fragmented to see a pattern in. Rumours swirl: of dodgy Ofsteds; academies scoring higher than maintained schools for no determinable reason; and discrimination that, when schools were predominantly under local authority control, would have been so impossible, so laughable, that it's hard to credit.
Many of the problems associated with free schools are related to the fact that they're run by faith organisations. But faith schools have been around for decades without letting in the kind of injustice parents complain of now.
In Derby, a headteacher at a Muslim free school left, complaining, among other things, that girls were being asked to sit at the back of the class. Elsewhere there is talk of discrimination on the basis of caste; documented faith provision that doesn't reflect the local demographic (a Jewish primary school in Wandsworth, a borough that only has 1,600 Jewish constituents in total); communities whose primary schools are being force-academised (this is a word I never expected us to have to make up); parents no longer able to exact any accountability from their local authority and looking around blankly for someone to take their side.
I was never persuaded of what local authorities had done wrong, to be crowbarred out of education. But whatever you think of local authority control, it had pretty good mechanisms for ensuring children received an education without having to make a declaration of belief.
Education professionals have been saying since the coalition came in that it would take years to unpick the damage the free school programme and attendant policies could do. I always thought they meant Toby Young, and shrugged, thinking, he is but one slacker journalist – how dangerous can he be?
Written By: Zoe Williams
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