Stories + Views
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.
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.