EXCLUSIVE: DfE has no schedule for publishing impact assessments for free schools opened in last two years

Janet Downs's picture
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The Department for Education (DfE) doesn’t have a schedule for publishing impact assessment for free schools opening in September 2016 and September 2017, Freedom of Information reveals. 

The delay in publishing impact assessments for free school openers in 2016 and 2017 is unacceptable.   It’s important that local authorities, neighbouring schools and other stakeholders know how nearby schools would be affected  by opening a free school.  If the Government were as transparent as it claims it is, then it would make sure the DfE publish these assessments before a free school was given the go-ahead.

But the DfE doesn’t do so.  This raises the suspicion that the DfE doesn’t want the public to know that a proposed free school is likely to threaten the viability of existing schools.  Such sensitive information can wait - and wait - until after the free school has opened.

In Coventry, for example, it wasn’t made public until after Finham Park 2 free school opened that it would put two nearby secondary schools at high risk – one was good. 

In Bolton, the public didn’t know before Bolton UTC opened that it would likely have a high negative impact on three secondary schools.  

And the assessment impact for King’s Leadership Academy in Warrington showed the local authority (LA) said a new school wasn’t needed.  There were already surplus places and it would likely have a negative impact on two schools.  A few days ago, Schools Week reported that the head of Birchwood Community High School in Warrington is blaming King’s for a reduction in Birchwood’s intake.    The principal of King’s has challenged the claim.

Whether King’s is responsible for fewer pupils attending Birchwood or not, the question remains about the wisdom of spending taxpayers’ money on a school in an area where schools already have vacancies.

But at least we have been able to see these impact assessments.  And in 2015 the DfE published assessments for 2015 starters within weeks of them opening.

Not so after 2015.  Impact assessments for 2016 and 2017 free school openers have not been published.

The DfE claims the missing assessments are ‘being prepared for publication’ but must go through ‘a rigorous quality assurance process, to ensure that each document is in the correct format…’ and must be ‘accessible for those with visual impairments’

This is odd since all impact assessments use similar formating (see here for 2015 openers)  and appear to adhere to the DfE Style Guide which ensures DfE documents are ‘accessible for disabled people’.  No further preparation is needed, surely?  

Why is the DfE delaying publication of impact assessments for 2016 and 2017 starters?   The hold-up suggests the DfE has something to hide.

The DfE says once the preparation is completed the documents will likely be published ‘early in the new year’.  We will see.

For further details about this unacceptable foot-dragging see here.  

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