The record of Everton in the Community is absolutely exemplary, fans are extremely proud of the outreach work with young people and in particular the campaigns to combat racism. However, all of this excellent work is at risk of being indelibly tarnished and compromised by Everton's sponsorship of a Free School.
Many fans have raised that basic question – what is a football club doing trying to run a school? In the club's original proposals published in November 2011 the last page carries a general statement by the Conservative Education Minister, Michael Gove, extolling the virtues of Free Schools. I am seriously concerned how the club has become involved with such a controversial policy that is attempting to undermine state education.
The Everton Free School Consultation document also refers to the recent Taylor Report on alternative provision for excluded and disadvantaged children. Again, another reading of this report is to bring private providers into education and undermine the pay and conditions of teachers and other staff.
It's claimed that the Everton Free School will 'not compete' with state education, I think this is a misleading claim. If the Everton Free School enrols excluded young people the Consultation Document claims that the 'indicative funding' could be from ₤11,000 to ₤13,000 per pupil, so with 200 pupils (the target in three year's time) that would be over ₤2 million taken from schools in the state system. Inevitably special schools and Pupil Referral Units will close as a result of the Everton Free School. The danger is that our education system will end up like America's, with different private companies and charities providing education, leaving an underfunded, broken public education system.
I am also extremely concerned about the actual proposals for the Everton Free School and its state of readiness. The recent public consultation is being carried out over two days in the Liverpool Community College Learning Exchange in the city centre. From talking to fans who attended, there hasn't been a great turnout. Why not have the consultation at Everton or call a meeting for fans where alternative points of view could be expressed?
The consultation document outlines how the Free School will work with the 'marginalised and excluded' and a date of September 2012 is given for the opening. Given that, why was a Principal only appointed on a full time basis from the beginning of June (six weeks before the end of the school term)? Apparently no other staff have been appointed up to date. When will other staff be appointed and as teachers have to give a term's notice to their previous employer, how does the Free School propose to recruit experienced teachers?
Another point of concern with Free Schools is the loss of democratic control and accountability. Who will be on the governing body of the Free School? Will fans, parents and staff be included? How will the local community be represented?
Please could someone explain why the Everton Free School has called in as 'project managers' the Place Group (based in Manchester) which is overseeing scores of applications for academies and free schools from all over the country. Is the Everton Free School really a community driven project or part of an ideological attempt to introduce the profit motive into education?
Also the Everton Free School does not have its own purpose built premises but will be using the Liverpool Community College Learning Exchange. Given that two thirds of the pupils in the Everton Free School will be under 16, what separate provision is there in the building for these children?
From the evidence it appears that the Everton Free School is a reckless gamble,untried and untested staff (not even appointed yet) working with the most vulnerable, the marginalised and excluded children who have failed to thrive in mainstream schools and in a building that is designed for adult education.
The Everton Free School has attracted support because of the club's name and history. It can work both ways, because if there are problems with the Free School this will forever tarnish Everton's reputation. There is still time for the club to withdraw from the Free School and concentrate on running a football team.
Evertonians Against a Free School