Parents as Policy Makers in the Planning of Bilingual Free Schools

This paper aims to stimulate debate over how far free schools legislation is allowing parents to collaborate in education policy making in new ways by discussing findings from four case study campaigns for a primary bilingual free school (BFS) between 2013 and 2016. The reconfiguration of education policy agency and governance as a result of the rise of academy chains and third party sponsors of education is well documented (Higham, 2014; West & Bailey, 2013). However, the processes by which parents influence local educational provision through their campaigning for free schools is less understood. Parents’ roles in educational market reforms tend to be understood as principally being choosing agents (Waslander et al., 2010), but the thematic analysis of interviews, field notes and online forums presented here demonstrates that BFS parent campaigners and early adopters can have significant power over local language planning and policy through their early decisions over location and language and their marketing during campaigning. However, the complex ways in which sponsoring groups and local and national government agents respond to this and regulate parents’ power is also discussed. As a result, some groups of parents are better able to enjoy this planning power, meaning that the emerging BFS institution appears to be reinforcing the dominant view of language learning as being for an elite in high-status languages only. The presentation ends by discussing potential ways to widen access for a greater range of parents as collaborators in local education planning and policy making.

Higham, R. (2014). ”Who owns our schools?’ An analysis of the governance of free schools in England’. Educational Management Administration & Leadership, 42 (3), 404-422.

Waslander, S. et al. (2010). ‘Markets in education: An analytical review of empirical research on market mechanisms in education’ OECD Education Working Papers, No. 52, OECD Publishing.

West, A. & Bailey, E. (2013). ‘The Development of the Academies Programme: ‘Privatising’ School-Based Education in England 1986–2013’. British Journal of Educational Studies, 61 (2), 137-159.