Faith Groups Benefit From Gove's Free School Boom
A quarter of applications for free schools over the past two years have been from faith groups, official data suggests.
They include three new London Jewish free schools - Etz Chaim primary in Mill Hill, Eden primary in Muswell Hill and Rimon primary in Golders Green.
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The data was published this week after the Department for Education (DfE) lost a bid to withhold the material, and was ordered to release it by the Information Commissioner.
As he released the data, Education Secretary Michael Gove said he wanted to be "careful" about the information published on free schools applications.
In a letter to the Information Commissioner, Mr Gove suggested that there had been "personal attacks" on individuals involved in submitting applications.
In response, the Commissioner, Christopher Graham insisted that the DfE's arguments for keeping the information private "had clearly failed to convince".
The material published gives details of free school proposals submitted under the first three "waves" - or rounds - of applications.
For each application it gives the name of the proposed free school, the area it will be situated and the name of the independent school involved if it is converting to free school status.
For proposals submitted under the second and third "wave" of applications, it also notes the designated faith of the planned school, if any. An analysis of the applications suggests that around 25.5% - 132 applications in total - in these two "waves", were for schools that would have a religious character.
The information also shows that there were 179 applications from private schools planning to switch to the state sector and become free schools. This includes one proposal from a group of schools. Gove said: "There are people who are ideologically opposed to the free schools programme and some of the opposition to the programme has gone further than normal healthy debate.
"We are aware of personal attacks on individuals who simply want to improve educational standards and choice locally. Organisations opposed to free schools have run hostile publicity campaigns. In some cases these have become highly personal"
"We have been told of instances where teachers have lost their jobs simply by virtue of their association with a Free School application. One proposer has even told us that they have been the subject of a death threat."
Mr Gove said that he had fought the ruling because the DfE "wanted to protect public-spirited volunteers from intimidation". He added they wanted to make sure that people could open free schools "without fear of reprisal or backlash. I do not believe is right to facilitate the targeted intimidation of brave people acting on noble motives."
Board of Deputies senior vice president Laura Marks said: "The growth in free schools in the Jewish sector has been remarkable. It shows the strength of demand for different types of Jewish provision. The job of the Board is to provide information to help enable each school to be an exemplar of best practice."
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