Ministers have diluted proposals to let schools open in premises such as shops and houses without planning permission. Campaigners who were hoping to set up these schools are dealing with the setback from the decision.
There was a hostile reaction to the idea of opening free schools in property not made for educational purposes without a ‘change of use’ planning permission. The decision followed public consultation on proposed changes.
Free schools are a good idea for many reasons, one would be that many families are finding it hard to keep control of household spending and having a school that is very local will help households to save money.
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“Hostile local councils are using planning rules to block Free School groups in areas which desperately need them” said Rachel Wolf, director of the New Schools Network.
The need for schools in London is a serious matter with competition for places it would help if such free schools were to appear. The hurdle is that finding a space in which to set up a free school is difficult to locate since there are not many places that fit that requirement.
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Force free schools to wealthier areas
The main problem with the retreat on the planning permission issue was that it could force the free schools programme to wealthier areas which will not help those poorer places in London that could do with more schools to give those children a chance for a better future.
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Many believe that a cavalier approach to setting up a free school is not the way forward. Andy Burnham, the shadow education secretary agrees with this point saying: “People are saying loud and clear that free schools must not mean a free-for-all. There needs to be proper planning and a continuing role for the local authority.”