Government pledge as parent-run schools open in England

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As newly created schools run by parents but financed by the state opened across England for the academic year on Monday, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg insisted they should not be run for profit or reserved for the privileged few.

The creation of so-called "free schools" is a major part of the coalition government's education policy, although it has been opposed by many within Clegg's Liberal Democrat junior partners.

Although many have been set up by groups of parents, the new schools can also be run by teachers, charities, businesses, or religious groups, although their funding comes directly from central government and they are subjected to the same inspections as other schools.

But the 24 schools opening this week will have a greater degree of freedom than more conventional schools, allowing subjects such as Latin -- which is falling out of favour in mainstream schools -- to be taught from an early age.

Clegg acknowledged that the programme of free schools is "controversial" and carries "risks".

In a bid to reassure sceptics, he said in a speech in London that the free schools would be acceptable only if they reduce social segregation, rather than entrenching inequalities of opportunity.

Critics say most of the free schools so far are in middle-class areas, but Clegg called on education minister Michael Gove to ensure the second wave -- due to be announced this month -- are all in poorer neighbourhoods or areas with shortages of school places.

He also sought to calm fears that the schools could be run for profit, despite the government insisting that it has no immediate plans to do so.

Clegg said: "Yes to greater diversity; yes to more choice for parents. But no to running schools for profit, not in our state-funded education sector.

"Let me be clear what I want to see from free schools. I want them to be available to the whole community -- open to all children and not just the privileged few. I want them to be part of a school system that releases opportunity, rather than entrenching it."

He said: "They must not be the preserve of the privileged few -- creaming off the best pupils while leaving the rest to fend for themselves, causing problems for and draining resources from other nearby schools.

"So let me give you my assurance: I would never tolerate that."

© 2011 AFP

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