There’s no such thing as a Free School?

Over recent weeks I’ve been a bit puzzled as to why the Conservatives chose to use the term ‘Free schools’ in relation to their policy to enable parents and other organisations to set up and run their own schools with public funding.

Perhaps no-one has told them that there were so-called Free Schools in the 1960s that grew out of the social movements and counterculture of the 1960s and early 1970s? Inspired by popular authors of the time such as A. S. Neill, and Ivan Illich, they promoted substantial change in public education and hundreds of totally independent ‘free’ schools were set up, mainly in America but with a handful in the UK. At the extreme was the notion of  ‘deschooling’ entirely.

A book by Ron Miller on the Free Schools Movement was published in 2002.

In his review of the book, Frank Lindenfeld writes:

“The role of staff in these schools was to act as models, guides, mentors and leaders, and not as authority figures. Decisions were generally made in meetings of staff and students, one person, one vote. The schools were usually small—20-60 students and 3-10 staff and volunteers. There were no compulsory classes, age groupings, pre-set curricula, or grades. Supporters of free schools did not believe this model was suitable for all children, only that such alternatives work for many kids, while public schools are sorely deficient as well as oppressive.

And they believed in experiential learning, rather than merely learning from books and expert authorities. Children are naturally curious: in their own time they will learn what they need without being told what to do.”

And E. Wayne Ross (editor of The Social Studies Curriculum) adds:

“Free Schools, Free People is about the ongoing struggle for the freedom to teach and learn; the clash between technocratic systems of education that rely on bureaucratic and disciplinary authority to achieve standardization and efficiency and those people in pursuit of humane, holistic, and non-authoritarian approaches to education.”

So bring on the Free Schools, I say…

And finally, just as we’ve finally worked out what the letters DCFS stand for, that nice progressive new Education Secretary Mr Gove has come up with a new name. Well I saw new, but in fact it’s back to the good old ‘Department for Education’. Except this time, note that it’s the DfE rather than the DFE. There’s progress for you.

One comment on “There’s no such thing as a Free School?

  1. I visited a charter school in San Diego last month, and I wonder if those have been a model for the Conservatives: this was a primary and middle school that had started as 28 children of German parents being taught in a church basement, and had grown to a school of some 700 pupils. They described their curriculum as ’emergent’ (I think that was what they called it, anyway), which seemed to mean that they did what seemed to interest the children rather than deciding what the children should be taught. This all happened outside the district’s control, unlike in US public schools where the district says what should be being taught (sometimes on a week by week basis). How free do you want a school to be? What do children of a school like this think when they move up to high school, I wonder?

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