There are signs that the DFE is recognising the weaknesses in its free school applications process. According to this report
, new details of how applications will work in practice were explained at a conference for free school founders on Saturday. Meanwhile the New Schools Network
and the DFE
also warn proposers on their websites that the application process is changing and that no new proposals can be accepted until the new assessment process is in place. Most significantly it looks as though the Stage 2 proposal form part of the procedure - the stage at which free school proposers can put in vague estimates of demand and get money in return to develop their plans - is being dispensed with. Instead Stage 2 is being rolled into the next stage and proposers will have to provide a more detailed business case and educational plan before they can attract any funding. This will include information about curriculum, admissions and affordability, including contingency planning in the case of places not being filled.
an organisation present at the conference, which doesn't appear to have been heavily publicised, reported that the announcement caused' quite a stir' with potential founders who felt the original idea of harnessing individual parent and teacher energy would be sacrificed in favour of bids being managed by big chains like Ark
, something contributors to this site have always suspected was the real government aim.However the change of heart may also signal a recognition that the initial flurry of publicity about free schools attracted groups who either don't have the capacity to set up or run a new school, or who may not have the best motives, and therefore should be discounted and certainly not given public funds at such an early stage.
This process doesn't yet include the possibility that more than one group will come forward if there is indeed a demonstrable need for a new school in a given area. As I suggested here
in an earlier post the Labour government's competition procedure should be re-introduced so that potential school bidders are required to make a public and open case for why they should be chosen to run any new school, this process should include bids for maintained schools ( VA, foundation or trust) and allow local authorities to enter bids if that is what local parents want.