The government today gave the green light for the first eight "free schools" to open in England, with the prime minister, David Cameron, pledging they will bring greater opportunity to the poorest pupils.
The education secretary, Michael Gove, used a conference in London to announce that the business plans of eight schools – four in the capital and the remainder in Suffolk, West Sussex, Norwich and Leicester – had been approved and will open in September in a move that has been attacked by teaching unions.
Gove also revealed that he was open to the idea of establishing a free school in the Department for Education's central London headquarters. "We have been trying to see how we can make use of DfE estates to make space available for schools," he said.
Free schools will have more freedom over their curriculum and teachers' pay and conditions. Teachers employed by them will also not need to have formal teaching qualifications.
The New Schools Network, a charity set up to promote the free schools, has promised they will "improve the quality of education – particularly for the most deprived – by increasing the number of independent, innovative schools within the state sector".
According to the DfE: "Free schools are all-ability, state-funded schools, set up in response to parental demand. The most important element of a great education is the quality of teaching and free schools will enable excellent teachers to create schools and improve standards for all children, regardless of their background."
But teaching unions have warned they will cause "chaos" at a local level and "dismantle state education".
The conference heard from a number of US teachers who had set up charter schools, on similar principles as free schools, in some of the most deprived areas in inner cities.
Joel Klein, former chancellor of the New York City education department, said: "Charter schools have given thousands of underprivileged children across America a better start in life."
Uh, huh - except for the 46% that perform the same as traditional public schools and the 37% that perform worse than traditional public schools.