Why so secretive about the New Schools Network?

Fiona Millar's picture
Why can't we have the full facts about the funding and business plan of the New Schools Network, the charity given £500,000 by Michael Gove to establish free schools around the country. After months of FOI requests to the Department for Education, and a ruling from the Information Commissioner The Other Tax Payers Alliance has finally elicited a bit of information.

The OTPA's requests were specific;  To see the business case presented to the DfE by NSN; to find out whether other tenders were sought for this work of setting up free schools;to try and establish who else is funding the NSN and whether they had a commercial interest in free schools.

But guess what - the DfE doesn't hold information on the NSN's funders ( that doesn't mean they don't know who they are of course) and they didn't seek any other tenders because amazingly, in spite of other similar organisations like the Academies and Specialist Schools Trust being in operation for almost ten years with 5500 member schools, rather than the NSN's ten months months and possibly six schools,  only the NSN was 'capable of providing the level of support needed by the number of interested parties quickly enough to enable the first Free Schools to open by September 2011".

The business plan was heavily redacted on the grounds of commercial confidentiality and the need to allow the "the free and frank exchange of views" within government. So much for open government.  Scores of quangos are being axed for not being accountable enough, yet the wholly unaccountable New Schools Network continues to get funding and its activities are deemed too commercially sensitive for the public domain.

Of the 750 groups who have sought information from the NSN, there many now  be a handful of free schools established this year. It doesn't seem a very good use of tax payers money. And as the Other Taxpayers Alliance points out : 'What strange political terrain we now inhabit: a state funded network the New Schools Network,  promoting independent schools, and an independents network, the Local Schools Network, promoting state schools.

Maybe we should be asking Gove for some money?

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