Brent Council could turn to free schools to solve shortage of places

Controversial move could divide the borough’s Labour Party group

Brent’s Labour-run council could controversially help set up a free school to deal with the borough’s shortage of places in a move which could divide the political group.

Discussions have already taken place in which it was suggested that the council should find a partner to run the free school.

However, no final decision has been made.

Speaking to the Times, Cllr Mary Arnold (Labour), lead member for children and families, said: “We’ve got a real shortage of school places.

“The government has restricted funding for expanding schools, which has been diverted into free schools.

“We are researching what other councils are doing across London to deal with the shortage of places and finding out how they are making ends meet.”

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Free schools were introduced by Education Secretary Michael Gove and can be set up by parents, teachers, charities and private firms.

However, even though they are funded by central government, they operate outside the control of local authorities, which has sparked fears they will not be held accountable to scrutiny.

An extra �600million will be allocated to free schools in the autumn.

Cllr Arnold said: “If we don’t look into the situation, free schools could be just forced upon us.

“If that happens, then we want them to have a connection with the local authority. It is early days. We are taking a responsible look at providing places for our children. A lot of councils are looking for partners.”

In February alone there were 630 children unplaced in schools in Brent. The council has already began expanding schools and successfully lobbied for �25m last year to help deal with the crisis.

Cllr Arnold said: “It is about using the resources we have to provide our legal duty. Everybody is shocked that there are so many children not in school in Brent and that will affect their life chances. We have to do what is right for the children.”

But teaching unions have criticised the idea.

Jean Roberts, from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said: “All the unions disagree with free schools. They are taking money away from the other schools.”

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