Coffee House

Free schools are revolutionising state education

14 May 2014

11:00 AM

14 May 2014

11:00 AM

The last few days have been immensely frustrating for students, teachers and parents involved with free schools, because, yet again, their schools have become a political football. Following the recent ‘debates’, you would be forgiven for believing that these new independent state-funded schools have been foisted on communities who do not want them, are languishing half empty and have been written off by Ofsted, struggling to keep pace with other state schools.

Since 2010, nearly 300 new state schools have been set up – by teachers, charities and community groups. Each one is only in existence because parents have come forward in their thousands, demanding more for their children. More because they aren’t happy with what is on offer locally or, quite literally more, because there aren’t enough school places full stop.

The national political debate is a world away from the reality on the ground. Free schools are proving hugely popular in local communities around England, with the latest data showing an average of three applicants for every place in a free school, rising to 10 applications at the most popular options.

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It is true that some free schools have not had every place full in their first year of operation. But this has nothing to do with their popularity or quality, and everything to do with the challenges in finding suitable premises. Many free schools have been unable to confirm an exact location to parents until very late in the day. Too often, local authorities and local politics are behind these difficulties; with planning processes used to cause delays, together with a seemingly aloof attitude to parents. Once these issues have been resolved and the schools are in their second or third years, parents are voting with their feet.

Demand is high because the early evidence shows that free schools are delivering high quality education. A generous interpretation of the recent coverage about free schools trailing their counterparts in Ofsted assessments would suggest a misunderstanding, rather than a deliberate attempt to undermine or mislead. Yet the clear facts are these: on a like-for-like comparison, free schools are outperforming other state schools. Free schools are inspected in their second year of operation, so all of those inspected to date have been examined under the new, more rigorous, Ofsted framework. Compared with state schools also inspected since the new regime was introduced, 67 per cent of free schools have been judged as ‘Outstanding’ or ‘Good’, compared with 63 per cent of all other state schools. What’s more, free schools are twice as likely to be ‘Outstanding’ than their other state education counterparts.

The numbers are still small; but it’s particularly interesting to note that, when you look closely at those which are being judged as good or outstanding, groups set up by ‘new entrants’ to the market are doing particularly well. Nearly three quarters (74 per cent) of the new provider schools were good or outstanding, compared to 63 per cent of new schools led by more established groups.

This further underscores the critical importance of ensuring that new providers can continue to enter the education sector, bringing with them new ideas and fresh perspective.

Natalie Evans is Director of the New Schools Network.

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Show comments
  • exSecondaryModernTeacher

    Partisan piece of puff from the New Schools Network. Some points:

    1 Free schools are “oversubscribed”. But how accurate are oversubscription figures if they count every mention by a parent irrespective of order of preference?
    2 “New entrant” free schools outperform ones from “established” groups. What about the “new entrant” groups that ran Discovery New School. Al-Madinah or The Hawthorne’s Free Schools? Or the “new entrant” groups that set up Kings Science Academy, Bedford Free School and Greenwich Free School – all three of these were lauded by Gove but Ofsted didn’t agree with his assessment of their brilliance (and the head of Kings is still off work pending a police enquiry)?
    3 Each one of the free schools is because “thousands” of parents have come forward. No they’re not, most were set up by existing chains, other schools or faith groups. And “expressions of interest” could easily by signed not just by interested parents, but their relatives, friends etc.
    4 “Bringing in new ideas and perspectives”: no, they’re not. They are more likely to offer traditional types of education with an academic slant. Nothing necessarily wrong with that but they can’t be described as “innovative” when most of them are not.

  • Bob339

    I hope this is true and that our once- world-beating ed system is getting back on its feet.

  • Mark Horler

    Natalie Evans is Director of the New Schools Network.

    Uh-huh. How about that. -_-

  • andagain

    Free schools are proving hugely popular in local communities around
    England, with the latest data showing an average of three applicants for
    every place in a free school, rising to 10 applications at the most
    popular options.

    Can you provide a link? there is something so unconvincing about a supporter of something claiming that the evidence really does honestly support his case, when you don’t get an independent look at that evidence.

  • Mr Creosote

    Your problem is, the BBC don’t like Free schools, and neither do the left-wing commentariat (ie most of the media!)….fortunately they cannot argue with the figures.

  • Robert_Eve

    Good post Natalie.

  • you_kid

    The Secretary of State for Education and Conservative Greenie-ism (CEN) misappropriates 400 million quid from the education budget of disadvantaged children to feed into his schemes of helping other disadvantaged children he likes more. Isn’t it his job to do that?

  • Johnnywas

    if the Free Schools are anything like the Academies then there’s a whole load of bad press going to keep coming out. Academies are not the success that the government would have you believe. And that’s before any questions about how much ‘free’ land has been given to the sponsors.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2620205/Academy-chain-founder-paid-wife-28-000-Officials-criticise-series-dubious-financial-practices-including-20-000-fact-finding-trip-New-York.html

    • monty61

      Indeed. I have to say I knew right from the first paragraph that the writer of this shameless puff piece for free schools would be a free school handout recipient. (And so it proved when I got to the bottom).

  • resident.leftie

    When Gove (blessed be his name) is in charge of the NHS, the new Free
    Hospitals will be able to employ non-qualfied surgeons with a breadth
    of life experience which will enable them to make incisions with exuberance and enthusiasm lacking in the current crop of jaded knife-jockeys.

    And why not let Christian Scientists and Jehovah’s Witnesses sponsor
    them and add their unique angle on medical treatment? We could also
    remove all legal food standards and abandon the inspection regime, so
    that if any one asks, no one can say they aren’t best in country. Plus,
    if we pump in twice as much money into these shiny, Free Hospitals they
    are bound to take patients away from the dull, unexciting local
    hospitals with their low budgets and qualified staff.

    Key points:
    No food standards.
    Unqualified staff.
    No inspections.
    Governed by theocrats
    Twice as big a budget
    Accountable only to Gove (blessed be his name)

    Doesn’t that sound great? If it’s good enough for your children’s education, it’s good enough for the NHS.

    • monty61

      Touting for a job on the next Labour Party election broadcast?

      • resident.leftie

        I couldn’t do a worse job than their latest offerings.

    • Kitty MLB

      So you have wandered from the other place and your weary
      creaky bones now reside here, old comrade.Glad you have
      seen the light in regards to the ‘blessed’ Michael Gove,
      his divinity and font of all knowledge, will be legendary.

      • resident.leftie

        This is a launch and leave raid, Kitty, despite my moniker.

        • Inverted Meniscus

          Good stuff. There are quite enough misguided leftist idiots polluting this site.

        • telemachus

          Welcome son
          You immediately sorted and belittled the chief revanchist posting here
          There has been a steady drift to the far right on this blog over the last year
          We look to more like posts

          • resident.leftie

            The ultra-right? I thought it was the domain of of right-wing brothers-in-law and people who start making off-colour jokes at weddings after one too many sherries.

    • Mr Grumpy

      “Governed by theocrats”

      No risk whatsoever of such a thing happening on any local authority’s watch, is there?

      • resident.leftie

        Add to the mixture the delightful freedoms and power these schools have and add a Gove Bible, and you get something magical our stade C of E schools can’t replicate.

        • Mr Grumpy

          Methinks you’d struggle to find many theocrats in C of E schools. I had in mind the ones who use Trojan horses.

    • Colonel Mustard

      As if this site needed more “resident lefties”…

      As if England needed any “resident lefties” at all.

      • resident.leftie

        Your name is suspiciously Liberal Democrat. You aren’t one of those Orange Book fellows, are you? Were you strangled with the rope in the parlour, and was is autoerotic?

        • Colonel Mustard

          Illiberal Undemocrats? Me? Pff!

          “The English word “mustard” derives from the Anglo-Norman mustarde and Old French mostarde. The first element is ultimately from Latin mustum, (“must”, young wine) – the condiment was originally prepared by making the ground seeds into a paste with must. The second element comes also from Latin ardens, (hot, flaming). It is first attested in English in the late 13th century, though it is found as a surname a century earlier.”

          “English mustard powder is made from a combination of fiery white and nutty-brown mustard seeds.”

          “The sharp, clean heat of English mustard is best”

          “The whole point of English mustard is its ferocious, sharp heat.”

          • resident.leftie

            I’ll give you a pass, then, Mustard
            I think the makers of Cluedo were well advised to change the Colonel’s name from Yellow, in any case.

            • Colonel Mustard

              My family name existed long before Cluedo or the Illiberal Undemocrats. Grateful for the memory of those who went before me and were better men if you wouldn’t slag it off publicly thanks.

              • resident.leftie

                I was suggesting Mustard is a better name than Yellow – a compliment rather than an insult. And if you really are a Mustard, then I apologise.

      • Kitty MLB

        Resident Leftie is a old sparring partner of mine from elsewhere.
        Always fair, know for his manners and acerbic wit. A good egg
        born of a bad hen.

        • Inverted Meniscus

          Hi Kitty great to hear from you again! Hope you are well and keep bashing those leftist idiots. Go Kitty!

        • resident.leftie

          I think you are insulting my mother. That’s not on, Kitty.

          • Kitty MLB

            I meant the socialist golden egg laying chicken.Obviously your mother is a most spendid chicken and please stay your wit
            and wisdom and foibles must be shared.
            And without sparring partners, how can
            a warrioress and devine entity battle.

            • resident.leftie

              Ah! Your metaphor is now clear.

    • Fergus Pickering

      What a funny fellow. A surgeon is analogous to a teacher? Of course he is. Medical training is just like educational training. Why certainly.Twat!

      • resident.leftie

        Clearly, to you, analogy is something you get from pollen.

        • Kitty MLB

          Oh, you must stay, those witty and razor sharp ripostes are
          never dull as a constipated mule and you are never terminally
          serious. Humour is infectious and some in the world have been
          taking antibiotics for too long.

    • andagain

      Frankly, since evil murderous profit-seeking companies provide the NHS with mostof its life saving drugs and equipment, I can’t see why they can’t run a life saving hospital as well.

      Or a school, for that matter.

  • HookesLaw

    Education revolution. Another reason to doubt the ‘liblabcon’ lie.

    • Peter Stroud

      What a pointless observation.

  • The Laughing Cavalier

    Forty years ago the graduates of the red brick and concrete universities faced the dreadful prospect of getting a job. Disdainful of the private sector and too thick or left wing to get a decent position in the national Civil Service they opted for employment with the local authorities which were, at the time, paying better not being subject to Callaghan’s wages freezes. They were not averse to earning good salaries themselves. Since then these no hopers and never wozzers have infested local government, worst of all the education departments, imposing their tired and wrong-headed 1970s nostrums on schools.

    By a combination of Buggins turn and promotion by dead men’s shoes they reached positions senior enough for them to inflict do real harm in the ‘90s and the first part of this Century. Removing their pernicious influence and that of the younger people they trained is paramount if schools are to recover their primary purpose of educating. It is in escaping such people that the Free Schools have triumphed and raised standards.

    • davebush999

      You really are having a laugh.

      • Colonel Mustard

        It’s no laughing matter.

      • The Laughing Cavalier

        No.

      • Inverted Meniscus

        No it was an excellent analysis.

    • Inverted Meniscus

      Good call. Take a hundred up ticks!

    • telemachus

      If you are correct that is fine
      What is not fine is plonking them next to a large existing school and hope the Free School will suck out the children with engaged parents such that the existing school wil wither
      But this withering takes a few years during which time remaining children get progressively worse education
      *
      This Govian Educational Social Darwinism is morally abhorrent

      • andagain

        You seem to be assuming that any parent who cares about their childrens education will make sure to send them to a free school rather than an LEA school.

        Why do you think they will all do that?

        • telemachus

          I accept they may have sufficient central investment to make them better
          Any engaged parent who does not do the best for their child is failing that child
          However 14% of parents have no interest or no ability to pursue their children’s best interests
          Their children are condemned to substandard education over the years it takes the school to fail
          *
          The honest way is to close the school and transfer all the children or invest in the original school
          Gove has not got either the courage or the wit to do either

          • andagain

            So we should close schools that are uncompetitive? I agree. Indeed, if we made it easier to open a new school by rescinding the ban on those evil profits, we could force the closure of a lot more uncompetitive schools. Or have them bought out by the competitive ones.

      • Colonel Mustard

        I don’t believe anyone ‘plonks’ schools, free or otherwise.

        It is a poor indictment of Labour-run state schools that their success is dependent on “engaged parents”. Ball in the net. Unfortunately for you it was the Labour net.

        • telemachus

          I am prepared to be corrected but it is general understanding that one of the planks of the Free school policy is to create them where there is a failing LEA school to allow local people to access a better quality of education
          I understand the principle but abhor it

          • Colonel Mustard

            Yes, I know that Labour is against freedom of choice and reducing everyone to the lowest common denominator but your argument is full of holes.

            • telemachus

              I welcome freedom of choice
              I think you understand well the point that Gove condemns the children of failing parents to failing education
              It is morally wrong

              • Colonel Mustard

                No he doesn’t. The officers of the state responsible, whether in the LEA or the school itself, do that. To condemn free schools for the inadequacies of the state education system is preposterous. Like blaming a cheaper energy supplier for an exorbitant one.

                But there is no evidence that the existence of a free school contributes to the failure of a LEA school. And a failing LEA school should not be blamed on a lack of “engaged” parents but on those who run it.

                Only in Labour topsy-turvy La La Land could you come up with these convoluted and implausible arguments against free schools.

                • telemachus

                  I suspect you are deliberately being dense
                  Free Schools are being plonked next to failing LEA schools
                  And the are taking pupils and teachers
                  Ant the schools from which the teachers and pupils come progressively wither
                  With Govian blessing
                  *
                  It is not only morally wrong but dishonest
                  Gove should either invest in and bolster the failing school or close it
                  The wither is wrong wrong wrong

                • Colonel Mustard

                  Where is this happening? Identify locations and provide evidence for your assertions. This should be more than just your fervid imagination about what you ‘think’ might be happening. And stop bringing morality into politics. That IS dishonest.

                  You are looking through the telescope the wrong way round and ignoring the negative effect on pupils who want to learn and teachers who want to teach from the failing pupils and failing teachers in LEA schools.

                  Read this article on the subject, from a person who is not a friend of the Tories, and then shut up about it.

                  http://hopisen.com/2011/a-posture-on-free-schools/

              • alexaervine

                This will undoubtedly contribute huge in empowering the Education sector of entire country. Learning Center Alexandria, VA

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