BY ALEX SAMBROOK
Last week David Cameron announced a further 500 free schools would be established by 2020 under a Conservative government. It doesn’t come as much of a surprise; a bold education statement in the run up to the election was almost inevitable considering it’s an area that has been all but neglected by Labour, add that to the fact that the infrastructure is already in place and the Tories have got themselves a seemingly pretty solid policy.
The initial idea behind free schools was that a group of parents who might be unhappy with the schools in their area can establish a whole new school, thus creating competition for the existing schools and driving up standards.
In reality however, free schools are socially divisive and dangerous. A large number are faith schools, and although extreme fundamentalist teachings such as creationism are banned, it seems an inevitability that these schools are going to spend more time peddling unfounded religious nonsense rather than giving pupils a rich, fact based scientific education.
Additionally, they actively work against every inch of progress that Britain has made in the last 60 years to ensure that ethnic minorities integrate into British society.
Without exposure to different cultures our children become ignorant and uneducated. These same children then go on to become intolerant adults who use ethnic groups as scapegoats when they need someone to blame for their problems.
Equally, it gives religious parents the opportunity to keep their children indoctrinated for as long as possible, sheltering them from other beliefs and preventing them from forming their own view of the world.
I’m well aware that I’m writing this at the risk of sounding like a militant atheist (a group almost as abhorred as religious fundamentalists thanks to Richard Dawkins), but the idea of a school ran by people with such an intense agenda genuinely frightens me.
Furthermore, research of long-running free schools in the United States and Sweden suggests that racial segregation is very much a real issue. Professor Preston Green III, a law professor at Penn State University, says: “Charter schools tend to be more racially segregated than traditional public schools.”
It’s not just religious groups either that are taking advantage of the opportunity to open free schools.
Literally anyone can apply to open one, and whilst I appreciate that most potential free school founders have good intentions, there is the possibility for people to exploit the pupils for their own gain – be that a religious group brainwashing children from an early age, or a business using the schools as nothing but a breeding ground for their workforce.
It is a monumental waste of taxpayer money, too. Each free school is funded by the government and whilst I’m certainly not opposed to state-funded education, it seems rather foolish to spend money on new schools rather than trying to improve the ones we already have.
In short, free schools are not only a huge, unnecessary expense – they are also quite frankly dangerous. Our children deserve more than to be handed over to institutions that have free reign to impose self-serving agendas, especially when we’re paying.