Free schools not the answer to places shortfall - council leader (From East London and West Essex Guardian Series)
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The Leader of Waltham Forest Council expresses concern over how some free schools are run
A predicted shortage in the number of secondary school places should not be addressed by the establishment of free schools in Waltham Forest, the council leader has said.
Cllr Chris Robbins said he does not anticipate a need for a new secondary school until September 2017, but acknowledged a pressing need for new facilities.
However, he is at odds with the coalition government who suggest demand can be met with independent schools, which he believes undermine accountability.
He said: "The government feel the concept of free schools is a way of filling the gap of shortages in mainstream schools, we don't.
"The important thing is what the school’s relationship is with the authority, if it’s a good one and constructive one then it really doesn’t matter.
"It’s when they feel they can go off and do whatever they want, like having their own entrance criteria.
"Anybody can set them up in their back room by people with no qualifications.
"It is a faith-based opportunity for them to feed their young people into a narrower line of education."
While Cllr Robbins said he believes high-quality mobile classrooms would have been a "dreadful" decision 20 years ago, there use is now justified as they are built to a high standard, providing an "extremely good learning experience".
He ruled out a "major influx or explosion" in free or faith-based schools in Waltham Forest over the coming years, and said of 83 per cent of pupils are given a place at their first choice school, compared to the London average of 80 per cent.
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