Michael Gove's free schools at 10: the most successful policy since the war – or a costly mistake?

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A decade ago the first free schools opened with fanfare and a promise to transform England’s education system. But it hasn’t quite turned out that way

Ten years ago this month, Mark Lehain, a former headteacher, was feeling deflated. His attempt to become one of the first free school leaders after the election of the coalition government had just been put on hold.

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“We had lots of support, but we couldn’t secure the site in time, so people were applying for a school that didn’t exist,” he recalls. To cap it all he had to spend the evening of the decision at a protest meeting about the proposed new school to which, he says, opponents had been bussed in from all over England.

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