AN educational charity which argues that the North-East needs more free schools is heading to the region to drum up support.

Supporters of the New Schools Network will be mingling with shoppers in Middlesbrough and Hartlepool this week in a bid to get their message across.

The charity claims that new free schools could help address shortages in school places, improve educational standards and create greater choice for parents.

There are now a total of five in the region, including the region's first Special Free School in Darlington, but the charity wants to encourage more groups to come forward with a view to founding more free schools.

Free Schools are state funded schools that are independent of local authority control. They have the freedom to decide the length of school day and term, their curriculum, teacher pay and how they spend their budgets.

Leigh Davison, from the West Newcastle Academy free school, said:  "Setting up a free school gave us the freedom to look at other successful education models and offer parents a real choice."

But Simon Kennedy, North-East organiser for the NASUWT union, which opposes free schools, said: "There is no evidence that free schools raise educational standards and they encourage schools to compete against each other rather than working together."

New Schools Challenge staff will be in the Middleton Grange shopping centre in Hartlepool from 10am on Thursday, September 19 and at the Hillstreet shopping centre in Middlesbrough from 10am on Saturday September 21.

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