Election 2017. Be informed: the facts on free schools, academies and non-academies
In the run-up to elections, it’s difficult to sift facts from spin. The National Foundation for Educational Research and FullFact have come to voters’ aid. Here’s a summary* of two of their fact sheets about state schools in England:
Evidence about how good free schools are for pupils’ performance is mixed.
Care needs to be taken with comparisons: the number of free schools is relatively small compared to other school types and we don’t know if free schools inspected so far are representative of all free schools.
Free schools are more likely to be judged outstanding but also more likely to be judged as requiring improvement or inadequate.
Most free schools are now set up in areas which need new places but not always in the areas with the greatest need.
21% of secondary free schools are in local authorities (LAs) where, overall, no new capacity is needed between 2010 and 2020.
LAs responding to a National Audit Office survey (April 2016 – January 2017) said 50% of primary free schools and 67% of secondary free schools were not located in the areas of greatest need within their area.
It is cheaper to create a new place through the expansion of an existing LA school than to set up a new free school.
The DfE has spent much more on free schools than was anticipated.
Evidence on the performance of academies compared to LA schools is mixed but on the whole there’s no substantial difference in performance. (This is despite years of propaganda saying academy conversion is a magic bullet for increased performance.)
Analysis of GCSE results suggests academies generally don’t perform better than secondary non-academies. We don’t know as much about primary performance.
77% of primaries are not academies (March 2017 figures). 4% are in stand-alone academy trusts. 18% are in a multi-academy trust (MAT). 1% are free schools. (This suggests there is still reluctance in the primary sector to move from LA stewardship).
31% of secondaries are not academies (March 2017 figures). 26% are stand-alone academies (their days may be numbered – the pressure is on for them to become MATs or join an existing MAT). 36% are in MATs. 7% are free schools, university technical colleges or studio schools.
The number of MATs grew rapidly from 391 in March 2011 to 1,121 in November 2016 (the number of academies transferring between academy trusts grows year on year but the Department for Education is dragging its feet on publishing how much these transfers cost the taxpayer).
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) criticised the DfE for letting some MATs expand too quickly without independent assessments of their capacity and capability to grow.
The DfE has been criticised for a lack of accountability for academies.
The DfE expects to spend £9.7 billion on the free schools programme out of a total capital investment in all schools of £23 billion.
*I’ve lifted most of the sentences directly from the sheets although I’ve sometimes shortened them. My comments are in italics in brackets. I’ve kept these to the minimum.
NFER/FullFact have published a third fact sheet on teacher retention. It’s here.