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Home » Alternative Issue, Features, Viewpoint

Viewpoint – Alternative: Education that Says what it Means, the Original Free Schools

Submitted by on March 5, 2013 – 5:20 pmNo Comment

Unlocking free education.

Taught by volunteers and inclusive to all, squat schools provide an alternative to Cameron’s Big Society free schools, without cost to the taxpayer.

Talia Rose, 28, who has been an English Foreign Language (EFL) teacher for the last nine years, volunteered as a facilitator in free schools in squats. She passionately exclaimed how she became “part of a collective that did an arts free school in the building behind the Bank of Ideas.”

In 2011, the Occupy movement devised the Bank of Ideas, a free school held at the disused UBS office complex near Liverpool Street station. Taught by volunteers, schools such as this are based on the idea that education should be free and that anyone could come to be educated about, amongst other things, society and the arts. The original concept of schools free in thought and without fees was devised by Catalan Anarchist Francisco Ferrer y Guardia in 1908.

In 2011, 24 of the taxpayer funded government free schools were introduced as part of David Cameron’s concept of the Big Society, which was surprisingly taken from leftist philosopher EF Schumacher, a German Marxist thinker and humane socialist economist in the 1940s.

The Education Foundation, the UK’s education think tank, the government’s Department for Education and Cambridge Education Group, a global education service, all declined to be interviewed about them.
The little information there is states these schools are not controlled by local authorities. Teachers’ charities, education experts and religious groups can open a free school just by registering with the Department for Education.

By contrast, free schools in squats have no religious or state connections. Speakers have included volunteers like 34-year-old Alessio Rastani, financial guru and banker, as well as barristers from top law firms and economy lecturers. Regarding the environment of the free school workshops, Talia said: “These are not just lectures, they bring materials for an open and organic discussion. Rather than being told here’s the idea you are going to learn from, it’s about what are you going to learn from this idea.”

Talia has been squatting for many years. Growing up in Berkshire, she was home schooled from the age of 14. Education runs in her family, with her father being a secondary school teacher, her mother teaching at a special needs school and her sister a philosophy teacher. She said: “My background is in teaching, I’m an avid reader. I love learning about things. When I get a question, I have to find the answer.”

In September 2012, section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act decreed that anyone found to be squatting a residential building could be fined or go to prison, potentially posing a threat to the survival of these kinds of schools.

Although classes taught in squats happen without allocated money and are not permanent, at the least they encourage open thinking and embrace all of the community and most importantly at the end of the day you can’t beat free education.

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