Parents and teachers debate free schools and academies in the town

Some 50 teachers, parents and councillors debated free schools and academies at a public meeting.

Members of the National Union of Teachers criticised the lack of local government control over free schools and academies at the Arora Hotel, Southgate Avenue, on Thursday (February 13).

Crawley’s Discovery New School is due to close in April after it was placed in ‘special measures’. It opened in 2011 as one of the first free schools in the country.

The government says the free schools programme allows parents and teachers to create a new school, and that competition will drive up standards.

An academy is sponsored by a private donor and a free school is governed by a non-profit charitable trust. Both are state-funded but are not controlled by local authorities.

The Gatwick School, a free school, is due to open in Manor Royal in September.

Philipa Harvey, NUT senior vice president elect, said local government support could save failing free schools and academies before they put demand on school places in West Sussex.

She said: “It feels like a giant game of school musical places where nobody seems to be looking out for the last children to find a space.”

She added: “It’s the local electors that know their community best and are in a best position to say how to run the local schools.

“The role of parents in how academies have come about often has completely been drowned out and ignored.”

She said unqualified teachers at free schools and academies did not plan for children’s learning in the long-term.

A parent argued Discovery New School suited her son better than mainstream education. She said: “If you look at any of our children you will see they are way above their peers.

“Parents are in despair that children don’t fit in your state mainstream schooling.”

Jackie Baker, NUT executive member elect, said: “If that had been a local authority school it would have had that support at its fingertips. The free schools lack a local community focus. There’s no desire to work with a democratically elected local committee.”

Bridget Chapman, Anti Academies Alliance chairwoman, believed businesspeople running free schools were capitalising on their “guaranteed income streams”.