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When is a Free School not a Free School?

Wed 24 Sep, 2014 9:58 am

I'll give you the answer to that riddle at the end although by then all will become clear.

Let's go back to the White paper issued in late 2010 to see what it says about Free Schools (1)

Dramatically extend the Academies programme so that all schools can take on the autonomy Academy status offers, using it to raise standards and narrow the attainment gap.

Support – not turn away – teachers, charities, parent groups and others who have the vision and drive to open Free Schools in response to parental demand, especially in areas of deprivation where there is significant dissatisfaction with the choices available.

OK, that seems fairly clear. Academies prior to 2010 were being run by a variety of organisations including learning organisations, universities or colleges. Post 2010 individual schools were allowed to becomes academies funded directly from the DfE.

The DfE issues lists of schools which are not funded through local authorities like this:

Academies - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/open-academies-and-academy-projects-in-development
Free Schools - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/free-schools-successful-applications-and-open-schools-2014

When the first Free Schools opened in 2011 were inspected in the last academic year, there were the predictable claims and counter-claims over whether these were being judged to be doing better than maintained schools. But we'll let that pass. Suffice to say that Free Schools are very important to the Gove revolution.

So it was a bit confusing to find, out of the 24 schools to be inspected, these:

Aldborough E-ACT Free School
ARK Atwood Primary Academy
ARK Conway Primary Academy

But as the Aldborough website says itself:(4)

E-ACT has 31 open Academies in the country. both primary, secondary and all-through. Pupils at these Academies make significant progress. Pupils at Aldborough E-ACT Free School will be no different.

But go to the Open Academies list and we find this:

8012030 137068 St Ursula's E-ACT Academy Primary Sep-11 Bristol North West Bristol City of South West N/A N/A Sponsored E-ACT

The N/A is in the column for Predecessor School...which means that it was a new opening.

And as we see from their website, sure enough it opened in September 2011 - at the same time as Aldborough.(5)

And both schools are listed on the E-Act website under Academies.(6)

There are several other examples including the ARK ones mentioned above.

On the Open Academies spreadsheet, there are 24 schools listed with no predecessor school i.e. they are new openings.

You may think that this is only a once-off confusion - but on the list of schools opening from 2014 and beyond (7) there are the following:

ARK Blended Learning Academy
ARK Ealing Primary Academy
ARK North Enfield Academy


Harris Invictus Free School
Harris Primary Free School Beckenham
Harris Primary Free School Bromley
Harris Primary Free School Chafford
Harris Primary Free School East Dulwich
Harris Tottenham Free School
Harris Westminster Free School for Post 16

Both of which are very well-known academy sponsors.

So...the answer to the riddle of When is a Free School not a Free School?

When it's an Academy...

Of course, none of this would really matter if the DfE and its supporters in the press weren't constantly praising Free Schools when they do well, and insisting that any failures are simply a one-off and don't represent the remainder.

But it would help if the DfE weren't thoroughly confused as to what these new schools were supposed to be. When an academy sponsor find some of its schools listed in one place and others listed elsewhere it must be time to ask the DfE what it thinks it is doing with its data.

(1) - The Importance of teaching - The Schools White Paper 2010
(2) (3) see above)
(4) - http://www.aldboroughe-actfreeschool.org.uk/Our-School/
(5) - http://www.e-act.org.uk/our-academies/st-ursulas-e-act-academy/
(6) - http://www.e-act.org.uk/our-academies/
(7) - Link now not working due to passage of time!

Re: When is a Free School not a Free School?

Wed 24 Sep, 2014 9:59 am

Did I mention that two of those 'free schools' which are being run by established academy chains were given an Outstanding rating by Ofsted last term?

That's two out of the four rated as Outstanding.

As I said above, when being given the message that these are doing better than other schools, it needs to be borne in mind that all is not what it seems.

Re: When is a Free School not a Free School?

Wed 24 Sep, 2014 10:01 am

As a coda to this, there was a piece in the Guardian about a free school in Feltham set up by teachers, which had this little gem.(1)

Why opt to establish a free school, given the controversy surrounding their standards, employment practices and the impact on other local schools? Although the Department for Education says many free schools have been founded by teachers, it cannot give precise figures.

As I posted BTL


There's only 174 of them and they can't categorise them?

I suspect the reason they don't is because a fair number aren't what people would think free schools are.

Slightly ugly turn of phrase but I do suspect that they don't want people looking too closely as they might discover that the numbers started by teachers and parents are actually in a minority and they are pushing any school opening in there to bump up the figures.

(1) - http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/nov/05/teachers-start-free-schools
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