On the day of the first Free Schools Conference
in London, it's worth raising some issues that probably will be skipped over at the various talks by the great and the good.
If you look at my previous post, you will see that I've made my own estimates about the costs of free schools based on a "linear regression" I've derived from looking at the government's figures for LA schools, where I've compared the number of pupils against the total expenditure. Obviously, this is not going to provide the public with a totally reliable figure of free school costs, but it does, at least, show that schools with fewer than 700 pupils will be significantly more expensive than bigger schools. My analysis shows, admittedly in a fairly basic way, that having a government policy which encourages the setting-up of small schools is fiscal madness when there are spare places in existing schools.
The chief problem for my calculations and many other ones is this: most free schools simply don't know how many pupils they are going to admit in the coming year. The public has a right to know some basic things about these schools:
The number of pupils they are admitting
The projected setting-up costs
The government funds the schools are receiving and will receive in the coming year(s)
At the moment, we have no solid idea about what the DfE's projected costs per pupils are for these schools. I have now found the "reckoner"
on a page updated on 28th January, which estimates the funds a free school will have next year but it's unreliable because capital costs and "start up" costs, which are entirely up to the DfE's discretion, are not divulged. As stated before, key information like numbers of pupils are not available as well. In other words, the key costs are not available.
I certainly won't apologise for making some informed guesses about the costs per pupil, based on the figures we currently have. The linear regression reveals that setting up these schools in the first five years will be much more expensive than putting them into schools which still have surplus places.
It's clear even looking at the most rudimentary of calculations that we need to consolidate and improve the resources we have, rather than wasting millions upon setting up schools which will be absurdly expensive and may well lead to declining standards.
It's time that the government told us the true costs of the free schools experiment.