Chester will get another free school says Prime Minister

Reporter:

Neil Bellis

A NEW free school will be set up in Chester.

The Prime Minister David Cameron announced the approval of 49 new free schools across the country, including three studio schools. 

One of them, Christleton International Studio, will be located in Chester and sponsored by Christleton High School and the Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

The announcement comes as part of Tory plans for a further 500 free schools over the course of the next parliament if they win the election.

Currently there are two free schools in the city – the University Cathedral Free School which is moving to Love Street and St Martin’s Academy, on Hoole Lane, Hoole.

Chester MP Stephen Mosley welcomed the announcement. 

He said: “I couldn’t be prouder of this Government’s record on education, the demand for places at Chester’s existing free schools has been unprecedented.”

The studio school will specialise in business and enterprise, with capacity for 330 students and demonstrating an ambitious vision based on employer need and business opportunities in the area. 

The studio school will offer a distinctive curriculum developed in partnership with its business backers.

Studio Schools are a type of free school primarily for 14-19 year olds.

They seek to help provide the skills and knowledge young people require to succeed in the workplace by bridging the gap between business, industry and education.

In total more than 400 free schools have been approved since 2010. 

But critics of the scheme say free schools are being created in areas where there is no pressure on school places, leading to some areas with larger class sizes and others where teachers are being laid off due to falling numbers.

The scheme has also been criticised as it is claimed there has been little evidence it has led to an increase in standards in schools and it will take out funding for the schools building programme, leaving existing schools crumbling.

But Mr Mosley defended the scheme, saying Labour had left the schools system in a worse state than Estonia’s. 

He said: “In the years before this Government took office, the UK dropped from seventh to 25th in reading; eighth to 27th in maths; and fourth to 16th in science. 

“Labour’s legacy left our education system performing worse than both Poland and Estonia.

“In Chester we saw schools closing and a total failure to plan for a growing need for more school places. In contrast since 2010 we’ve seen two new schools open in the city and millions of extra investment in extra primary places – with five Chester schools getting funding to be completely rebuilt.

“With millions of pounds invested in our schools, record numbers of apprenticeships and youth unemployment tumbling, the future is bright for Chester’s young people.”

Labour’s prospective Parliamentary candidate for the city of Chester, Chris Matheson, slammed the free schools plan, saying primary schools in the city are looking to lay off staff as a result.

He said: “Free schools are an ideological experiment that take huge amounts of public money from the majority to benefit just a few. 

“Last year the Conservative government diverted £400 million from a fund to ease classroom overcrowding to a fund to increase the number of free schools.

“In Chester, I know certain primary schools are looking at staff reductions as their pupil numbers fall because of the new free schools.

“Free schools are just not needed here as we have enough school places. No Chester free schools have been tested by OFSTED so we cannot know if they are working or not. And by cancelling Labour's Building Schools for the Future programme, Chester’s schools may have lost four years of improved school buildings.

“Mr Mosley is right about one thing, however – there was a failure to plan for growing need and he was responsible for that failure as a member of the former Conservative-run county council that closed all the schools just a few years ago. 

“Labour will not close any existing free schools but we will concentrate resources on raising standards for all pupils and not just a select few.”

See full story in the Chester Leader

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