Theresa May moots PCC-run free schools

Joe Lepper
Friday, February 5, 2016

Police and crime commissioners (PCC) could be handed powers to open up their own free schools to support troubled young people at risk of crime, Home Secretary Theresa May has said.

Theresa May said the mental health of young people is a "key priority" for her. Picture: Crown Copyright
Theresa May said the mental health of young people is a "key priority" for her. Picture: Crown Copyright

Speaking at an event hosted by think tank Policy Exchange, May suggested the move as one of a number of ways the role of PCCs could be expanded after elections are held in May.

She stated that a number of PCCs have argued that youth justice, probation and court services have a significant impact on crime in their areas and there are efficiencies to be had from better integration and information sharing.

“I believe the next set of PCCs should bring together the two great reforms of the last parliament – police reform and school reform – to work with and possibly set up alternative provision free schools to support troubled children and prevent them falling into a life of crime,” she said.

“We are yet to decide the full extent of these proposals and the form they will take, but I am clear that there is a significant opportunity here for PCCs to lead the same type of reform they have delivered in emergency services in the wider criminal justice system.”

The announcement coincides with an ongoing review of the youth justice system, which was ordered by Justice Secretary Michael Gove last September.

However it has been criticised by the National Union of Teachers, with the union’s deputy general secretary Kevin Courtney describing it as an “extraordinary suggestion”.

He added: “Aside from the fact that this government continually makes the mistake in believing that anyone can run schools, they are also cutting funding and support to pupil referral units (PRUs).

“PRUs support the very children and young people these new free schools are purported to be created for. This makes neither economic nor logical sense.”

Liberty has also hit out at the plans. Sara Ogilvie, policy officer for the human rights campaign group, said: “If this wasn’t a speech by a senior government minister, you would think it was satire.

"Tasking PCCs to set up and run schools is a sure-fire way to estrange troubled children and fast-track them into the criminal justice system. Mixing police reform and school reform is a chilling distraction from the failure of the PCC project.”

In announcing the plans May cited Northamptonshire’s Adam Simmonds as an example of a PCC who is effectively broadening the role’s influence.

Simmonds is already involved in plans to launch a 1,200 pupil free school on the site of the county’s police headquarters this September. The Wootton Park School for four- to 19-year-olds plans to offer crime science as a specialism and is being set up by the Northampton Free School Trust.

However, Courtney believes such crime-specific schools offer “a limited vision for education” adding “we need an inclusive, engaging curriculum that meets the needs of all students and we need schools to be answerable to their local community and run by their local authority". 

"It is astonishing that government thinks local authorities are not considered suitable to run schools, yet PCCs are.”

CYP Now Digital membership

  • Latest digital issues
  • Latest online articles
  • Archive of more than 60,000 articles
  • Unlimited access to our online Topic Hubs
  • Archive of digital editions
  • Themed supplements

From £15 / month


CYP Now Magazine

  • Latest print issues
  • Themed supplements

From £12 / month