Free school programme causing ‘misery’ in West Sussex

Two West Sussex Free Schools, the recently closed Discovery School in Crawley, and The Chichester Free School are “two case studies in the costly and dangerous dismantling of our state education system” said Sarah Maynard of West Sussex Academy Watch.

Discovery recently closed its doors after Inspectors said it was “inadequate” as the school’s reliance on unqualified teachers meant that, according to the National Union of Head Teachers, its pupils “had been taught nothing” for an entire term.

Meanwhile, the opening of The Chichester Free School last year has coincided with more than 70 staff losing their jobs in neighbouring secondary schools, Chichester High School for Girls, and Chichester High School for Boys. The redundancies have occurred due to falling pupil numbers, which has been blamed on the new school. The Branch is supporting its members though the redundancy situations at Chichester High School for Girls, Chichester High School for Boys and Discovery Free School when it closed.

Free Schools have attracted recent criticism from the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee for opening in areas that have do not have a forecast need for places. Only 19% of new secondary free schools are filling such need, said the report. Assistant Secretary of West Sussex Teachers Association (NUT), Phil Dufty said “this proves that the opening of Free Schools, such as the one in Chichester, is driven by an ideological commitment to prise open our education system to new forms of provision which waste public money, are unregulated and not needed. Meanwhile the families of these 70 teachers and school support staff who have lost their jobs suffer hardship as a result.”   

According to its website, West Sussex County Council is “committed to supporting the coalition Government’s flagship policy for the conversion of schools to academy status.” Free Schools are simply new academy schools. West Sussex Academy Watch has repeatedly called for the council to cease its uncritical support of the government’s ideological academies and free school agenda.

UNISON West Sussex Branch Secretary, Dan Sartin said “These experiments are a disaster for local residents. Government policy is responsible for the mess, but West Sussex County Council shares the blame by encouraging the proliferation of these schools in our county. The cost in redundancy payments for staff in existing schools is a huge and entirely unnecessary drain on the public purse.”

The shocking cost of failure at Discovery Free School was revealed in the Crawley News last month. On top of £2.5 million public money spent on acquiring the site and refurbishment, close to £300,000 has been spent by the County Council to pick up the pieces, attracting criticism from Labour parliamentary candidate for Crawley and County Councillor, Chris Oxlade.

Sarah Maynard says: “West Sussex County Council has recently shown that it is willing to exert its influence on government policy in its defence of the Welfare Assistance Fund. It should do more to prevent these costly mistakes. They should call on the government to lift the ban on local authorities opening new schools, as the Head teachers union did this week, but these should be built where they are needed, otherwise they cause disruption for children and their families in other schools. The council could also do more to encourage existing schools to expand where extra places are needed.”