Ok, going back I made the point on Twitter that the Free Schools programme was just going to lead to Privatisation and Selection.
Free schools – private company interest
Just type free schools into google and see the private companies encircling the programme to see some of the people that will benefit.
No private companies can run free schools?
None can make a profit, but can invest in high salaries for Chief Executives or have high charges for administration (for which they can make a profit). But none of this we can see as Academies and Free Schools aren’t judged on the same measures as they don’t have to report spending as other schools.
On privatisation: quite clearly where a private company (including the independent schools now planning to convert to free school status) runs a school, it expects to make a profit. This is an ideological divide. The privately educated bods at the DoE will say, as they have in the NHS, that provided it costs the state no more and the service provided is of high quality, that it shouldn’t matter that profits are made. I think it does matter that education and health stay unambiguously publically funded from taxation and accountable through elected organisations to those taxpayers.
As pointed out in the TES “Ka-ching! Free-school cash could bring elites into town”
Value for money
Cost of setting up a free school
The money ‘put-aside- for the free schools programme isn’t known. Gove is quoted as saying “We’re allocating £50m of capital over the next year, up to April of next year, in order to help get some projects off the ground,” he told Channel 4 News. “And then in the future this will be, obviously, a priority for our capital expenditure.”
Surely, a priority for the capital expenditure should be helping existing schools be better. Whether it is through capital funding new buildings or helping schools dealing with old building maintenance. The risk of all this money, DoE time etc etc being thrown at Free Schools is that the majority of schools then miss out to the detriment of the majority of pupils. The new Pupil Premium will not fill the gaps in funding that have already taken place.
The Financial Times’ detailed scrutiny of the schools spending settlement reported that, “More than two-thirds of pupils will attend schools that suffer a cut in funding.”
To fund the salary inflation of headteachers something within the free schools system will have to give…less teachers?
Professor John Howson, director of Education Data Surveys, warned that headteachers of free schools could inflate salaries further. “If some of the ‘free schools’ get a lot of sponsorship, they will inflate the salaries of headteachers and other schools will try to match them,”
Value for Money (for Academies read Free Schools as well)
However, capital expenditure on new schools does not guarantee value for money, as the recent history of Bexley’s Academy shows http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6041149
In fact the National Audit Office remarked:
“The rate of opening new academies has increased rapidly in recent years, creating challenges around timely staff restructuring and appointment of senior teams. If not dealt with effectively, these challenges can impact significantly on teaching and learning, financial health and longer-term sustainability.”
“Some academies are finding it difficult to achieve financial balance without additional, non-recurrent funding”
“With greater numbers of academies opening in recent years, the Department’s resources to administer and monitor the Programme have been stretched, particularly as funding is administered on an individual academy basis.”
“It cannot be assumed, however, that academies’ performance to date is an accurate predictor of how the model will perform when generalised over many more schools. Existing academies have been focused on improving underperformance in deprived areas, whereas the future academy population is likely to include schools with a much wider range of attainment, and operating in very different community settings.”
“The expansion of the Programme will increase the scale of risks to value for money, particularly around financial sustainability, governance and management capacity”
Selection? Skewed intakes?
to remind ourselves of the benefit of not having schools that can cherry pick, which is what the free schools will do
“Yet we know from research that children can do better if schools are not socially segregated. Increasingly our schools are just that, with half of all pupils entitled to free school meals (a proxy for poverty) concentrated in a quarter of secondary schools, while the top secondary schools take – on average – only ﬁve per cent of pupils entitled to free school meals, less than half the national average”
We know from examples of schools in the current system, that it is possible to design a school so that it becomes self-selecting. I use the example of the London Oratory School. A catholic school, it draws children from a very wide area. It takes most boys into Y7 following selection criteria that are firmly based on the parent’s commitment to the church. Priority is given to those who are active participants in the church – reading at mass etc. (http://www.london-oratory.org/tlos/htdocs/documents/draft%20admissions%20arrangements%202012v1.pdf) This will inevitably disqualify those without the personal and financial resources to make such a commitment, however good their personal faith might be. In addition, it takes 20 boys into Y3 for a specialist music education, half of them as choristers. These children are given musical aptitude tests and assessed for their “suitability” for a music education. As clever middle class parents will do – they know their way round the system and play it to get the best possible education for their children. You may note that LOS is going to administer the music aptitude selection tests for Toby Young’s WLFS. The style of the school will also discourage the less confident, less affluent parents. Uniform costs at least £400 a year, there is a “voluntary” termly contribution of about £50 per pupil, school lunches are compulsory and cost at least £2.50 per day (paid termly in advance or by direct debit), and there is an expectation that children, particularly those involved in music, will go on lengthy and expensive overseas visits at their own expense. The demands on parents are daunting (read a newsletter, it scares me, http://www.london-oratory.org/tlos/htdocs/documents/letters/letter%20to%20all%20parents%20august%202010.pdf).
I don’t deny that LOS probably provides the best nominally “free” and “non-selective” education in London, but it is also obvious that its intake is heavily skewed towards those in a position to comply with its rigid ethos. WLFS making Latin complusory and conducting music aptitude tests will ensure the intake is unrepresentative of its locality. Not because of an overt intention to select, but because a school set up to be “academic” will attract an academic intake and exclude the rest, so it will end up creaming off the brighter kids from other local schools.
Which leads nicely to the controversy of Wandsworth & the free school’s decision to omit one of the local primaries from the catchment area.
Impact of Free Schools on existing schools
Great Cornard Upper School is eight miles from the site of the planned free school at Stoke-by-Nayland. Head teacher Mike Foley says he is fearful about the impact the free school will have on his intake.
“Our worry is that if a free school happens in Stoke, a part of our catchment area which is more privileged, it will lead to a skewed intake,” he says. “One school will have the privileged children.” He fears that such a policy will mean the intake at his school becomes too heavily skewed towards children from more deprived homes.
“Motivation drops, and aspiration drops as well. In the end that will have an effect on results and it’s a downward spiral,” he explains. Opponents of free schools claim they will tend to be located in middle class areas, because only more affluent parents will be motivated to establish them.
The Suffolk issues
But David Forrest, head teacher of nearby Sudbury Upper School, which will lose intake to the new free school in Clare, is concerned about elements of the policy. “It stops us being able to run a planned education system within an area,” he says. “Any planning that you make to try and improve can simply be undermined by somebody saying ‘we as a group don’t like this so we’ll set up another free school’
Impact of Religious selection
Obviously, religious selection already exists. I don’t believe it is a good thing that free schools, or any school, can select based on religion (especially ALL staff). However, the Free Schools programme has been greedily jumped on by religious groups, desperate to set up schools that will only select from with their own community, as the admissions battle in Brent bore out. However, the Government’s new white paper has removed the teeth from the admissions board, as Schools adjudicator will be able to consider complaints about Academy admissions, but no longer have power to change admissions arrangements. So I expect these battles in the future to be won by the school.
In the past the As the Memorandum submitted by Accord to the Joint Select Committees on Human Rights lays out.
1. Indirect social selection
Research by Professor Anne West of the LSE and by the Runnymede Trust has found that the complex selection procedures are used by religious schools give a significant advantage to wealthier, more educated and more determined parents.
2. Indirect ethnic selection
It is true that some religious schools have many non-white pupils, but the headline statistics on school denomination and ethnicity do not tell the whole story. Catholic schools, for example, are disproportionately based in urban areas and accept many students from African and Caribbean backgrounds. However, the proportion of Bangladeshi pupils taught in London religious secondary schools is just one per cent, or a quarter of that in non-denominational schools. There therefore a risk that in areas with a strong overlap between religious and ethnic identity, religious admissions procedures can reinforce ethnic segregation, a problem highlighted in the Cantle Report. Furthermore, those black ethnicity pupils who do attend faith schools are less likely to be free school meal eligible or to have low prior attainment than those in community schools.
3. Religious selection
The impact of religious admissions criteria on social and ethnic selection are very important, but they should not be allowed to obscure the problems directly caused for individuals and society by religious discrimination.
For parents who are unable to meet the religious criteria of faith schools discrimination can greatly diminish school choice. It is the strength of community schools that they are open to all regardless of beliefs, but the consequence of the current system is that religious families usually have a greater choice of schools.
Consider, for example, two families—one Catholic, the other not religious—who wish to send their daughter to a secondary school in Liverpool. Both families are happy to send their child to either a religious or a community school because both prioritise factors such as proximity to home, results and friendship groups over the denomination of the school. The prevalence of schools with religiously discriminatory admissions means that the religious family will have a greater choice of schools, even though the denomination of the school is of little consequence to them.
According to a recent poll conducted on behalf of the EHRC, religion is today thought to be a significantly more divisive factor in British society than race.
Religious (as opposed to cultural and ethnic) divisions between young people are unique because they are directly promoted through discriminatory school admission policies. It is notable that the duty to promote community cohesion—which itself resulted from the failure to pass a quota system to open up faith school admissions—has done virtually nothing to tackle directly discriminatory admissions policies. We question the wisdom of a set of policies that seek to ameliorate divisions within and between communities, while at the same time leaving state-funded schools free to discriminate. Direct discrimination by public bodies should be the first thing to be tackled, not the last.
Finally, the Pressure from within to change the admissions
So how long will this ‘fair’ system be in place before it is replaced – Selection is on the way
The DoE can correctly say that Free Schools cannot select, cannot make a profit and will raise overall standards by inspiring others to do well and reaching out to help local schools. The trouble is, as many of the citations above illustrate, that Free Schools are not neutral additions to the education landscape. Even where the intentions appear entirely inclusive and good-hearted, their impacts on other local schools are likely to be negative.
Thanks to twitter for inspiring the blog and @SchoolDuggery for the parts of this blog that are well written (see italics)