Education secretary Nicky Morgan has pledged to create 500 schools during this parliament and 2 of them, one in Bournemouth and one in Tower Hamlets, London, will be free schools opened by serial entrepreneur Ian Livingston, one of the founders of Games Workshop, with a strong focus on STEAM – science, technology, engineering, arts and maths.
Morgan announced the news on 5th February – Livingston, who has a background in championing the cause of teaching digital skills in schools – ever since he completed a review into the subject in 2010 which concluded that the poor quality of IT teaching in schools is an obstacle to economic growth – wants to implement Dragons Den style competitions and start-up mock-ups as part of the curriculum.
Livingston’s latest ambition, after his 2010 report triggered an overhaul of the digital IT curriculum, is to create 2 “exemplary institutions of computing and creative thinking” – he has commented;
“The arts and sciences should no longer be a question of either/or – and to further this I’m delighted to be opening 2 free schools to embed digital creativity in future generations of our society. It is the combination of computer programming skills and creativity by which today’s world-changing companies are built.”
Free schools can be set up by parents, teachers, charities, businesses, cultural and sporting bodies, as well as community groups, academy trusts and sponsors if there is sufficient demand from the local community – initially attracting controversy amidst claims that they could become selective or elitist, there are now over 380 Free Schools around the UK. Over half of them in the 30% of most deprived areas in the UK, and research shows that they can help to bring local educational standards up.
Like academies, Free Schools fall outside local authority control and receive money directly from the Department for Education. They are given freedom to set their own curriculum, rules and regulations.
The Livingstone Academy in Tower Hamlets will be launched in partnership with Aspiration Academies Trust which already works with 3 schools describes as “outstanding”. The school, which will be in the Aldgate area will provide more than 1,500 places for 4-19 year olds. Thanks to the emphasis on STEAM school leavers can expect to find readily available apprenticeships, work placements and community work projects to get involved with in the local area as the trust partners with numerous local employers.
Tower Hamlets is one of London’s poorest and deprived boroughs – it is home to over a quarter of a million residents, has an extremely high ethnic minority population and is famous for areas such as Brick Lane with its vintage fashion stores and Bangladeshi cuisine – the area also covers a large part of what is commonly thought of as London’s traditional East End.
It also neighbours The Square Mile, Tech City and includes the Docklands area – where you will find many of the country’s richest and national and international firms, most progressive start-ups, FinTech disruptors, and creative and fashion industries desperate to bring new talent through.
Let’s hope Livingstone and Aspiration Academies can use joined up thinking to establish firm links between the areas schools and educational institutions and its employers and entrepreneurs – so that local residents can be as active a part of the entrepreneurial hustle and bustle as the Google execs, business Angels and visionary founders who have fallen for the area and now call it home.
Failure to do so would be nothing short of tragic, but here’s another welcome sign that ambition, care and education are part of the area’s DNA – and that’s down to its people – bloodied, unbowed – better educated, and open to business.