THE success of the government’s bid to create new “free schools”–funded by the state, but able to set conditions for staff, pick and choose from the national curriculum, and so on–rests on its ability to wrest power from local authorities and give it to community groups. The policy is a key element of David Cameron’s “Big Society”, but suffers from the same difficulty as the overall project: pushing through devolution in a time of austerity is tricky.
The aim of free schools, which are based on American and Swedish models, is to give parents more choice and promote competition. New schools can be established by parents, teachers, charities, religious outfits, universities, private schools and not-for-profit groups. They will be given public funds based on how many pupils enroll, with those from poor families attracting a premium.