The case for more free schools in Croydon


By - Tuesday 6th December, 2016

Why Croydon parents should take control of their children’s education


Croydon needs more schools

There is currently a shortage of school places in Croydon.

Croydon Council’s own projections show that Croydon could have a shortage of 2,475 places by 2017. Some schools designed to accept 60 new children each year are now forced to take double that number. The pressure on space means more children are being taught in portacabins and temporary classrooms built on playgrounds.

Yet, even families that are able to access a Croydon school suffer from the borough’s lack of schools. For a start, every Croydon parent is at the mercy of a two-tier education system: one in which the wealthy can get to an excellent local school by buying a house in the right catchment area or paying school fees, while less well off parents are stuck.

Croydon parents have suffered for too long from a two-tier education system

Other parents have been unable to make sure they have a local school because they have closed down. Others, still, simply do not have confidence in Croydon school provision as it stands: those parents are forced to send their children miles away to schools in other boroughs which don’t have the community involvement or the ethos which they may want.

The case for free schools

One solution to the school place shortage is to create more free schools.

A free school is a non-profit-making, state-funded school which is free to attend. Free schools are not controlled by a local authority but instead governed by a non-profit charitable trust. Charities, groups of teachers, existing schools, businesses and parents can set up a free school if they can prove they are needed and wanted by a local community.

To date, free schools have had a bad rap. Critics decry them as “diverting money away from existing schools” and as “fuelling segregation” as they (supposedly) benefit primarily middle-class parents with the time to set them up. Yet it’s hard to deny the allure of free schools:

Free schools are less expensive to run: free schools have cost 45% less to set up compared to previous school building programmes. Free schools help address the outright shortage of places: if you take a look at where newly approved free schools are opening, the majority of those providing primary places are in areas where there is a projected need for more. So whilst free schools, of themselves, are not a panacea when it comes to helping address the shortage of places, they are certainly playing a part in the solution.

Free schools give teachers, parents and education experts the opportunity to address real demand within an area

Free schools drive up local standards: nearly half all primary free schools, including those approved to open, are in the areas where results are average or worse, and over 70% are in areas where parents are less likely to get their first choice of school. Here, free schools are also having an impact by driving up local standards – with their pupils directly, but also as a result of neighbouring schools raising their game and local schools, including free schools, working effectively together.

Free schools increase the variety of education in an area whilst still meeting high standards and must give pupils the best possible chance to succeed.

Fundamentally, free schools give talented and committed teachers, parents and education experts the opportunity to open a school and address real demand within an area. The proposers can respond to what local people say they want and need in order to improve education for children in their community – whilst being freed from local government bureaucracy.

Is Croydon ready for more free schools?

There are currently two free schools in Croydon: Harris Invictus Academy Croydon, in London Road, West Croydon, and Paxton Academy Sports and Science, in Thornton Heath.

Cash-strapped Croydon Council has made overtures to the public asking for interested parties to come and put forward proposals to run more free schools in the borough. This is a great opportunity for Croydonians who to date have been concerned about the state of schooling in the area but have felt unable to meaningfully affect change. There is a huge amount of material – both serious and amusing – available to help guide Croydonians through the process of setting up a free school: it just takes people making the effort, rather than simply sitting around bemoaning the state of Croydon education.

There is a huge amount of literature out there explaining how to setup a free school – the only barrier is indolence, not ignorance

The French novelist Victor Hugo once said “nothing is stronger than an idea whose time has come”. When you take into account the lack of places, the poor exam results, and the problematic two-tier schooling in Croydon, it strikes me that more free schools in Croydon is an idea whose time has come.

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose

Jonny Rose is a committed Christian who has lived in the Croydon area for nearly twenty years. He is an active participant in his local community, serving at Grace Vineyard Church and organising Purley Breakfast Club, and was ranked "Croydon's 37th most powerful person" by the Croydon Advertiser (much to his amusement). He is the Head of Content at marketing technology company Idio, the founder of the Croydon Tech City movement, a LinkedIn coach, and creator of Croydon's first fashion label, Croydon Vs The World. Working on Instagram training. Views are his own, but it would be best for all concerned if you shared them. Please send your fanmail to: jonnyrose1 (at) gmail (dot) com

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  • Michael Swadling

    This article comes are a great time. Croydon has a great need for schools and more free school to add to variety of schools in Croydon would be of great benefit. A mix of technical/specialist and (maybe one day) Grammar schools would give parents and pupils real choice. Competition and choice will drive up standards and benefit all the communities of Croydon. Croydon’s education team under the past few administrators have done a great job to drive up standards. If Croydon Council have the vision we could use the need for numbers to take the next step and truly transform Croydon’s education landscape.

  • Marjorie Daw

    If Croydon was allowed to open its own schools again they could drive up standards further. Then we wouldn’t need free schools , but all schools could benefit from that expertise and experience the council education teams have built up over many years.