New Schools Network redefines Requires Improvement as ‘failing’ to justify setting up free schools in areas where they’re not needed

Janet Downs's picture
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New primary school places are desperately needed in some parts of the country. That’s been known for some time. The bulge will soon hit secondary schools but local authorities can’t set up their own new schools. The presumption was that all new schools should be academies or free schools. Now, as Fiona Millar discovered, the presumption is for all new schools to be free schools. Local authorities (LAs) wanting a new school to meet a need for extra places will have to tout around for a group willing to set up a free school in their area.

But the New Schools Network appears to support establishing free schools not just to provide places to meet need but setting them up where there is already a surplus. This waste of taxpayers’ money is justified by claiming too much local provision is ‘failing’.

‘Pupils are being forced to take up places in failing schools’, the Times reported citing NSN research which doesn’t yet appear to be on NSN’s website (accessed 17 August 2015, 17.40). But NSN has redefined ‘Requires Improvement’ to mean ‘failing’. One fifth of school places provided by LAs are in schools which have been judged Requires Improvement or Inadequate, said NSN, and children are being dragooned into these ‘failing’ schools. NSN’s director, Nick Timothy, said:

“These numbers show beyond doubt that we need more new schools — not just to meet demand but to improve the quality of provision…’.

There is no guarantee, of course, that new free schools would not Require Improvement or be judged Inadequate when inspectors visit. In any case, the National Audit Office found informal interventions such as local support were more effective than academy conversion in improving schools. Setting up a new free school is considerably more expensive than academy conversion – it follows, then, that this would be the most costly way of improving provision.

It is unacceptable that taxpayers’ cash is spent on setting up schools where there is no need for places. If schools in an area need improving, then it’s better value for money to support these schools.

SITUATION VACANT: NSN is advertising for two interns to support the advisory and communications team. Remuneration isn’t specified but NSN would like to hear from ‘candidates with significant experience (paid or voluntary) of either running events or being involved in local campaigning.’ It’s to be hoped they’ll do a better job than the one(s) who thought London was in the Falklands and Macao, China, was in Manchester.
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