Free Schools and us

There have been a lot of bad press recently about Free Schools, and I would like to share with you our approach on certain subjects.

Free Schools can employ unqualified teachers. This is true. It’s also true that Academies can employ unqualified teachers. Most people don’t know that Community schools can employ unqualified teachers as well. I should know, because I was employed by Hatfield Visual Arts College as an unqualified teacher. I am now qualified to be a Head Teacher (NPQH).

Because any school can employ unqualified teachers, this obviously isn’t an issue about Free Schools. For me, it’s about whether a person, once employed, would be allowed to stay unqualified. I would answer this, absolutely not. I would also say that this should be a condition of employment, that any unqualified person should be enrolled on a path towards qualification.

I would go further and say that it should be a condition of employment that all staff are enrolled on a suitable professional development pathway. This is what will happen at XP. All our teachers will be expected to be studying at least at Masters degree, which is why we have Richard Pountney, Principal Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University as a Governor, to academically validate the work we do at XP and to ensure appropriate professional development for all our staff.

You cannot be a learning expert if you are not an expert learner yourself.

There is a difference between having the freedom to employ the best candidates for employment, and allowing existing staff to not develop their craft. At XP, we would not overlook a strong candidate because of their lack of formal qualifications, but we would never allow a staff member to not develop professionally.

Anyone can open a Free School. This isn’t true. Anyone can write an application to open a Free School, but not everyone will get their application accepted, pass the interview, and proceed through pre-opening to sign the funding agreement to open the school.I know a few very able groups that didn’t get through the application stage, so I know how tough it is.

Our group isn’t made up of disgruntled parents or religious zealots. We are educators who build, run and facilitate high quality education day in, day out. While I understand a need for a new school could be borne out of the perceived needs of groups other than educators, I believe that educators should lead the application. There is an argument that this can be done through governance, but I also believe that there should be enough pedagogical knowledge within the governance of a school to hold the educators accountable.

I believe educators need to step up to open and run any new schools, whatever the classification.

Free Schools aren’t needed. This is arguable. If all our existing schools provided enough places, enough parental choice and enough good quality places, I would agree. But they don’t. I would love for us all to be able to send our kids to our local schools and for our children to get the right type and quality of education we desire. At the moment, this isn’t possible.

For me, the main reason is how schools, even the best performing schools, in the UK choose to teach our children. I think schools aren’t doing it right at a fundamental level. This is why we are creating XP, to do the fundamental things right, and the Free School model is the only way we can achieve this in a short space of time.

One of the reasons that the Free School policy exists is to allow innovation, and this is what XP is seen as being in the UK. XP will certainly be the first school in the UK to practice the shared pedagogies of High Tech High and Expeditionary Learning schools as a whole school. We don’t place any value in being the first, or being innovative for innovation’s sake. We just want to create a great school. The Free School policy allows us to do this. I think any government should have a mechanism to allow educators to create great schools. It’s either impossible or at least very difficult to do this within an existing school and the governance model.

I believe that where there is a shortage of good quality places for children, there is an argument to create good quality new schools designed and run by educators.

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