What the New Schools Network doesn’t tell you about Free Schools (part 2)Posted: July 30, 2014
Serving Deprived Areas/ Pupils
Claim: 50% of free schools have the same or more FSM students than their LA average.
The first wave of free schools came out very badly in terms of their provision for deprived pupils and areas. This has improved. Nevertheless the assertion that 50% of free schools have the same or more FSM students than their LA average means that 50% have less. That is not a normal distribution.
It is true that mainstream free schools have to follow the admissions code. However it is not uncommon for free schools to market themselves in various ways as appropriate mainly for abler and more middle class families … eg compulsory Latin, lack of vocational provision, focus exclusively on Russell Group as a destination, expensive uniform, religious tests and so on. We do not yet know what kinds of intake have been attracted by free schools, but one snippet (now fairly old) may or may not be typical:
A Freedom of Information enquiry to Hammersmith and Fulham Council by Ian McCauley has revealed the proportion of the Year 7 entry to the West London Free School that have attained level 4 or better in English and Maths for the 108 of the 120 students who live in that borough:
95.4% have level 4 in English, compared to 62.5% for the borough as a whole
89.9% have level 4 in Maths, compared to 59.7% for the borough as a whole.
And, entirely at random so not necessarily in any way typical, here is a contribution to Mumsnet:
“We have a Free School in our area. It’s generally felt to be successful, has a waiting list, and plans to expand at some point. BUT while it was founded “to create extra spaces”, its intake seems to mostly to consist of children poached from the surrounding schools (the remainder are bussed in by parents from miles away). The uniform is entirely bespoke from a private school supplier, so no Tesco items, it’s about £300 plus for a full set.”
Addressing shortage of places/ good places
Claim: Free schools are tackling the shortage of places in England
The distribution of free schools is essentially random – they appear where there is some group promoting a free school. The Department has received no applications to open primary Free Schools in half of all districts with high or severe forecast need for school places.
38% of approved free schools are primary and 42% are secondary. Given that secondary schools are at least twice the size of primaries, that means that many more secondary places are being created than primary. This is at a time of acute crisis in primary provision.
In 2013 NAO found that:
• around 70 per cent of the estimated 114,000 primary and secondary places from open or approved Schools are in districts forecasting some need;
• 87 per cent (27,000) of projected primary places in Free Schools opened by September 2013 are in districts forecasting high or severe need, 8 per cent (2,000) are in districts forecasting moderate need;
• 19 per cent (7,000) of projected secondary places in Free Schools opened by September 2013 are in districts forecasting high or severe need, 22 per cent (8,000) are in districts forecasting moderate need; and
• 42 schools have opened in districts with no forecast need, with estimated total capital costs of at least £241 million out of a projected total of £950 million for mainstream Schools
Claim: Just as importantly free schools are also tackling the shortage of good places in areas where existing standards are low
NSN justifies this claim by saying that 83% of primary free schools are in the two thirds of the country where results are lowest as are 70% of secondary free schools.
These immediately have the air of being statistics very carefully chosen to justify a particular conclusion. The “two thirds of the country where results are lowest” clearly contains significant areas where results are above average and is in no sense a meaningful grouping.
This data actually tells us almost nothing. Free schools could be in the lowest performing areas. Equally they could be in average areas or even in above average areas. And, for secondaries, even these figures show that a free school is just as likely to be in a high attaining area as in a low attaining one.