From the outset education campaigners argued that this was a potentially devastating development – undermining existing schools, breaking up local democratic accountability, destroying teacher’s terms & conditions, the list goes on and on.
Now that ‘free’ schools have existed for a couple of years the gloss is starting to come off Gove’s shiny new toy. Below we look at the developments in the ‘free’ schools. We aim to keep this piece up to date. If you have information for us about developments in ‘free’ schools in your area please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
Discovery New School the first to be closed.
Discovery New School (DNS) in Crawley, West Sussex, has been ordered to close its doors on April 4. It was one of the first 24 ‘free’ schools to open in 2011.
In a damning letter to the school’s chairman of governors, Chris Cook, Schools Minister Lord Nash said he was ending its funding agreement.
Discovery New School was declared failing and placed in special measures by the education watchdog Ofsted in May.
A Department for Education (DfE) spokesman said it had been monitoring the school’s progress and found it was not making the changes needed to improve standards.
Lord Nash’s letter said that during a visit to Discovery New School last month, Ofsted found that “no progress in the quality of teaching and learning had been made since the original special measures judgement in May”.
It added: “None of the school’s teachers were delivering good lessons and all were still consistently inadequate or required improvement.”
Schools minister intervenes in failing Al-Madinah free school
The report says teachers at the faith school are inexperienced and have not been provided with proper training.
Pupils are given the same work “regardless of their different abilities” and the governing body is “ineffective”, according to the report which was commissioned amid reports of irregularities at the school.
A letter from schools minister Lord Nash to the chair of Al-Madinah’s governing body said the school’s trustees have agreed to resign. Supervision of the school is to be handed to Barry Day, chief executive of the Greenwood Dale foundation trust, sponsor of the Greenwood academies trust, which operates 22 academies
‘Free’ school headteacher with no qualifications, or teaching experience, quits
Annaliese Briggs was appointed principal of Pimlico primary in central London in March by a charity set up by a government minister. She had no teaching qualifications and little experience in running a school. The new free school is sponsored by the Future Academies charity set up by Lord Nash, a junior schools minister and one of Michael Gove‘s closest allies.
Briggs, an English literature graduate from Queen Mary, University of London, had worked as a junior member of staff at the rightwing thinktank Civitas. She had no qualifications when appointed but was reportedly trained in Wandsworth in preparation for the beginning of the school year. She said that she would ignore the national curriculum and teach lessons “inspired by the tried and tested methods of ED Hirsch Jr”, the controversial American academic behind what he calls “content-rich” learning.
She quit after 6 months. Sources close to the academy say she was finding it difficult to cope with the workload.
IES Breckland head quit in November
Sherry Zand the Principal of IES Breckland School in Brandon Suffolk resigned in November. This comes weeks after Zand fired six teachers at IES Breckland who had only been appointed in September.
Since the start of the school year nearly a third of the teaching staff have left IES. Things apparently got so bad at the school that Zand herself was roped in to teach English before she went on sick leave.
IES English Schools Ltd who run IES Breckland under the only profit making agreement to run a free school currently in place have moved fast to bring in their own UK Chairman and Chief Operating Officer Peter Fyles as Acting Principal.
Fyles is quoted by BrandonSuffolk.com as saying in a letter to parents that the search for a new permanent principal is already underway and that they would be looking for an experienced principal to take the school forward.
His choice of words is interesting as Zand had never been a Head or Deputy prior to her appointment at IES. It looks like they intend to ensure her replacement has more experience.
Nishkam ‘free’ school fails Ofsted
The Nishkam primary ‘free school’ in Handsworth, Birmingham’s first free school, opened in September 2011. It claims on its website that ‘The primary purpose of the school is the drive for academic excellence. This is exceptionally important in our aspirations for pupils to exceed national standards.’
The Nishkam school failed its Ofsted inspection in July.
It rated Nishkam Primary as ‘requiring improvement’ in all of the main areas – achievement of pupils, quality of teaching, behaviour and safety of pupils, and leadership and management. The report concluded that the school needed to raise standards because ‘there is not enough teaching which is good enough to enable pupils to learn as quickly as they should’. Inspectors were also critical of the school’s leadership, saying leaders and governors did not have a clear understanding of the school’s strengths and weaknesses.
Kings Science Academy facing fraud investigation
OFSTED has been drawn into the row over a scandal hit free school facing fraud allegations as an MP has demanded to know why a Government probe into financial irregularities there was not mentioned in an inspection report.
MP David Ward has criticised Ofsted for not mentioning the investigation into the Kings Science Academy, in Bradford, despite the education watchdog being aware of it when it inspected the school.
The free school has been in the spotlight since a leaked report revealed that the Department for Education (DfE) had found it had submitted fabricated invoices to the Government to claim just over £10,000 in public money.
‘Free’ schools programme costs 3 times more that expected
The government’s flagship free school programme will cost at least three times the sum originally allocated, the public spending watchdog has found.
The National Audit Office said the scheme allowing groups to set up state-funded schools would cost £1.5bn – the original Treasury grant was £450.
The report says: “To date, the primary factor in decision-making has been opening schools at pace, rather than maximising value for money. The Department will need to exert more control over a rising cost trend.”
The report also confirms that despite intense pressure on school places in some areas, many free schools have opened in parts of the country with no places pressure.
More than a quarter of all spending on school buildings – £241m out of £950m – has been on free schools in areas with no need for extra places forecast, the report says.
‘Free’ schools performing worse than other schools
According to new figures from Ofsted, free schools are actually underperforming compared to all schools inspected by the regulator.
According to an answer by Ofsted to a parliamentary question from Jim Cunningham MP, 16 per cent of free schools were rated as ‘outstanding’ compared to 20 per cent of all schools.
56 per cent of free schools were also rated as good compared to 58 per cent of all schools; and 19 per cent of free schools were rated as ‘satisfactory/requires improvement’ compared to 20 per cent of all schools.
8 per cent of free schools were rated as ‘poor’ by Ofsted, compared to just 2 per cent of all schools.
This is particularly incredible since ‘free’ schools can select their location, premises, staff and pupils. For ‘free’ schools to perform worse than existing schools is an indictment of the policy.
A recent FOI request has shown that some ‘free’ schools are employing large numbers of unqualified teachers.
Trinity School in Sevenoaks, Kent, which opened in September 2013, said seven of its nine teachers were unqualified.
At Discovery New School in Crawley, West Sussex, which was ordered to close its doors on April 4 earlier this month (DEC), five of the school’s seven teachers were unqualified, the figures showed.
Employing unqualified teachers is one of the ‘freedoms’ that Michael Gove has encouraged.
‘Free’ schools – a disaster for education
In September 2011, as the first 24 ‘free’ schools opened, we published an article that included this comment:
“Because these schools are free from much of the legislation that governs our schools serious questions have to be asked about their governance. In many cases it is unclear who their financial backers are, whether the Trustees have any relevant experience running a school, and in many cases whether the Head’s have any suitable experience.”
We have been proven right. Here at the Anti Academies Alliance we have no crystal ball. But as a coalition of education trade unionists, councillors, campaigners and parents we know something about how our schools should be run, and it’s not like this.
Michael Gove and his education experiment have to go.