Majority of the 24 free schools that opened in 2011 have a lower proportion of children eligible for free school meals than local average, DfE figures reveal.

Janet Downs's picture
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The Guardian broke the story in April although it didn’t receive much publicity in other papers: “At least three-quarters of the coalition's flagship free schools have admitted a lower proportion of deprived pupils than is average for their wider neighbourhood.”

Only one of six secondary free schools, Kings Science Academy, Bradford, had the same proportion of pupils (23.5%) eligible for free school meals (FSM) as the local average. Three of the six were previously independent schools although one, Sandbach School, had been funded by Cheshire Council so, although technically independent, was publicly funded . The West London Free School had 23.3% FSM pupils (Hammersmith and Fulham FSM average 32.1%). The school’s Chair of Governors told the Guardian that the lower proportion of FSM pupils in free schools could be because they attracted those who would have gone private. As free schools were supposed to be of particular benefit to the disadvantaged it’s refreshing that someone admits the schools could be taking advantaged pupils from private ones. But fee-paying parents shouldn’t just look at free schools – there are thousands of other state schools from which to choose.

The Guardian used data from the Department of Education (DfE) as the basis for its article.  However, the DfE figures omitted two schools: Canary Wharf College and Moorlands Free School. Schoolduggery found that Canary Wharf College had 1.7% FSM (Tower Hamlets average 44.5%). Moorlands (now Barnfield Moorlands) had 20% FSM which is slightly higher than in Luton (19.9%). Five of the primary schools had no pupils on free school meals although one of these, The Priors School, Warwickshire, was a tiny existing school. The four free primary schools with no FSM pupils were St Luke’s CofE (Camden average 38.7%), Etz Chaim Jewish Primary School (Barnet average 18.7%), All Saints’ Junior School (Reading average 20.3%) and Eden Primary, (Haringey average 25.1%).

Only four of the eighteen schools offering primary classes had an intake that matched or exceeded the average in the local area: Barnfield Moorlands, ARK Atwood Primary, Aldborough E-Act and The Free School, Norwich.

The figures had been requested by Labour MP Kerry McCarthy some months before and Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, told Parliament on 24 April 2012 that the information had been placed in the House of Commons Library on 17 April.  The Guardian said it had based its article on the data from the Library .  However, a search of the Deposited Papers on the Library’s website on 12 July found the document was not listed.  It appears, then, that although the Guardian was able to find the data in April, the information has disappeared.  It will be interesting to discover if, and when, the figures re-appear or whether they have been lost.

 
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Comments

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 13/07/2012 - 11:38

Once again Janet, you are berating free schools for failing to be like the sink schools they are supposed to be an alternative to.

Schools like WLFS and Kings, Bradford are helping their FSM pupils precisely by educating them in a more balanced social environment. If they were to mimic the same local rate of FSM - the kids would be in the same position as if they went to their local school. My gut instinct is 25% is reasonable, 30% too high.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 13/07/2012 - 13:46

"the sink schools they are supposed to be an alternative to."

Where was the provision that free schools needed to open near sink schools?
You can't possibly argue that a free school in London is an appropriate alternative to a sinks school in Birmingham Ricky. There are very few sinks schools Ricky. Parents have preferences of course - that's natural but a sink schools is a seriously failing school, not a schools which is less preferred by some parents and not a school which Ofsted decides to label as being unsatisfactory because these days even very popular schools with no NEETS and substantial Oxbridge access programs are getting that label.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 13/07/2012 - 16:14

Rebecca - like you I wonder which schools were failing so badly that it required a new free school to be established in the vicinity. Like you, I don't remember Mr Gove saying that free schools would replace failing ones. I'm not aware that any school, failing or otherwise, has been replaced by a free school.

There are some schools, however, like Sir John Leman High School in Beccles, which are going to be disadvantaged by having a free school which is not needed established in the same area. Sir John Leman could never be described as a "sink" school which is in any case a derisory term often used to describe any school which happens to be within, or near, a disadvantaged area.

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 14/07/2012 - 10:18

Rebecca - further to my comments yesterday about this odd notion that free schools were set up to replace "sink" schools I had a look at Hammersmith and Fulham where two new secondary schools were opened in September 2011: the brand-new Hammersmith Academy co-sponsored by Mercers and the Information Technologists' Company (capacity 850), and the West London Free School (capacity 840). In Hammersmith and Fulham there were already 8 state secondary mainstream schools. These were a mixture of sponsored academies, voluntary-aided, foundation and community schools). Ofsted had judged 6 of the 8 to be outstanding and 2 to be good at their last inspections.

It's clear, therefore, that WLFS was not set up to replace a failing school.

Neither does it appear that the two newly-established secondary schools fulfilled a need for extra places. In 2011 there were 973 surplus secondary places in Hammersmith and Fulham - the surplus as a percentage of places was 15.1% . The two newly-established secondary schools have added a further 1,690 places.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/feb/16/school-places-excess...

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 14/07/2012 - 16:49

Indeed. It'll be interesting to see what happens to the other schools now they have to cope with rapid and unplanned decreased in numbers. These situations lead to budget catastrophes in schools as they simply can't cut courses and teachers overnight because students are part way through them.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Fri, 13/07/2012 - 13:54

Some defence of WLFS here...( not like me) I have looked at their Admissions Code in the past and can't see how it could be changed...to a non-Londoner it looks 100% fair and the "middle class pushy parent" effect is beyond the WLFS control surely ? . I consider 23.3% FSM pretty laudable for a first intake .

Re Barnfield Moorlands : the list of primary Schools for Luton Borough Council does not include Moorlands as an option in their Admissions documentation so many non-savvy parents may not be aware it's an option.

A guest says's picture
Sun, 15/07/2012 - 10:02

I am not so sure about this Rosie. I think you have to look at a schools intake and % free school meals. WLFS did not opt for a fair banding admission policy and I would be interested to see what the % of low achievers are at the school. I suspect the schools intake is skewed towards high and middle achievers. After all the head teacher did say that the curriculum would not suit everyone. A school with 23% FSM with those 23% mainly amongst low achievers will be different from one with the free school meals in the aspirational high achiever category.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Mon, 16/07/2012 - 11:42

Purposely skewed ?

Surely to be purposely skewed towards middle and high achievers then the WLFS would have to be actively allocating places based on SATS results/attainment data from primary schools ....I don't think this is a field on the Application Form and such information is only released to the school after the place has been offered and accepted surely?


Re fair banding admission scheme ......this would be the "fair banding" schemes rarely used by LEA's but that the nationalising private schools want rather than catchment based admissions . Indeed if secondary they can get ( as Bradford Grammar for Girls and Batley High for Girls) and if priamry are hoping for ( as Barnfield Moorlands are hoping for).

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Mon, 16/07/2012 - 11:46

Purposely skewed ?

Surely to be purposely skewed towards middle and high achievers then the WLFS would have to be actively allocating places based on SATS results/attainment data from primary schools ....I don't think this is a field on the Application Form and such information is only released to the school after the place has been offered and accepted surely?


Re fair banding admission scheme ......this would be the "fair banding" schemes rarely used by LEA's but that the nationalising private schools want rather than catchment based admissions . Indeed if secondary they can get ( as Bradford Grammar for Girls and Batley High for Girls) and if primary are hoping for ( as Barnfield Moorlands are hoping for).

A guest says's picture
Mon, 16/07/2012 - 20:49

I know that the school has not got control over the admissions and does not see what level children have achieved. However, it was proposed as a school which would prove that any child can benefit from an academic curriculum. I would be interested if they actually have a fully comprehensive intake or whether it is skewed towards higher /middle achievers because low achievers have essentially not applied (because of the nature of the curriculum )

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 17/07/2012 - 09:24

A guest makes a good point and raises an interesting question which doesn't just apply to WLFS. How far could a proposed curriculum in a school dissuade applications from certain types of pupil? A curriculum which is advertised as being primarily academic is not likely to appeal to parents of children with below-average attainment. This could result in the school with the more academic curriculum having an intake skewed towards the top end. The school then achieves higher results than the neighbouring school which took in the lower attainers. This is turn leads the school to boast that it is offering a better education than in the neighbouring school despite the fact that a school's results are likely to governed by its intake (Institute of Fiscal Studies report 2011 - see link below).

http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2011/08/school-intake-governs-acad...

A guest - welcome to the site if you haven't been here before. Several posters identify themselves as "Guest" so if you return it might be beneficial for you to use a different name if only to avoid being confused with other "Guests" whose comments are not always as constructive.

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Fri, 13/07/2012 - 13:56

continued.......so the 20% FSM at Moorlands is an especially positive thing...

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 13/07/2012 - 16:05

Rosie - in the thread which discussed Barnfield Moorlands I stressed that the school had attracted the same proportion of FSM pupils as the average for the area (slightly more in fact). And I, too, saw this as positive. Whether it was the influx of "all and sundry" (as one fleeing parent put it) that encouraged the exit of some of the previously fee-paying parents to the newly-established private school, we will never know.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 17/07/2012 - 17:12

How far could a proposed curriculum in a school dissuade applications from certain types of pupil? Probably many children and parents who applied to WLFS wanted something different than what was on offer elsewhere. So for some the curriculum in the established state sector disuaded them

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