First Free School Approved

Sarah's picture
by Sarah
So Toby Young is to get his way.

Two things I noticed about this story. First was one of the comments Toby made. 'My wife often jokes that if I spent the same amount of time on my career as I spend on the school we could afford to send all our children to Eton' - clearly exposing Toby's real aim, to get private education for his kids using our money.

The second thing was to note that Toby is still saying that the amount of money to be spent on adapting the temporary accommodation, acquiring a permanent site and converting that still 'cannot be disclosed'. Why Toby? Why are we not to be allowed to know how much we are paying so that your children can learn Latin.

It's about time the DfE started being as transparent as local authorities are expected to be and give us the information about the costs of these schools.
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Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 23:06

I absolutely agree, transparency is chronically needed. TY himself said the capital costs of the school are £12m, and I've worked out that his school will cost thousands of pounds more per pupil than your average state school.

Toby Young's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 23:31

Give up the vodoo maths, Francis. It'll cost no more to educate a child at the West London Free School than it will at the comprehensive next door. Which brings me to Sarah's point: If the West London Free School can offer children the equivalent of an independent school education for no more than it costs the taxpayer to educate them at a "bog standard comprehensive" (I'm quoting Fiona Millar's partner, there) then, surely, it should be applauded rather than condemned? After all, according to the OECD, Britain's independent schools are the best in the world whereas Britain's state schools are ranked 23rd. It won't just be my kids, Sarah. The West London Free School will be educating 840 local children at full capacity, with a constant influx of new children. And it isn't your money, for heaven's sake. We pay our taxes, too.

Francis, I don't understand why you're not more enthusiastic about the idea of parents and teachers setting up an independent, taxpayer-funded school? Less than six years ago, you were four square in favour of it. As you wrote in the Daily Telegraph in 2005 (eight years into New Labour's "improvements" of state education): "The home school movement, ignored by successive governments, could be encouraged to grow; parents could set up their own schools. Poor schools, like badly run shops, would be forced to improve and innovate, in response to the needs of the community rather than long-distance targets. Good schools of whatever type would thrive; poor schools would close."

Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 03/03/2011 - 23:36

I used to think a voucher system was the best way to improve our system, but my subsequent research showed it's not at all: it's very unfair and causes social segregation. We all want fairness, and unfortunately the free school system is plain unfair.

Sarah's picture
Fri, 04/03/2011 - 00:00

Toby - your school will be taking in children that otherwise would have attended other schools in the area and taking that funding with them - there is no additional funding for free schools and often no case in terms of need because there are surplus places elsewhere. Of course it isn't the equivalent of an independent education because the funding levels are not equivalent - we simply don't have enough money to fund all schools to the level that fee paying schools enjoy - that's a fantasy, so you shan't be competing for OECD status with independent schools at all, Free Schools will remain a poor relation in that respect. I shall be watching carefully to see how the free schools with their small classes and comparatively low pupil numbers remain financially viable over time having seen the educational impact of financial deficits in other schools.

As your school isn't yet open you've no idea how many children it will attract as yet.

I notice that you fail to address the point about transparency and the capital costs. Surely that funding would have been better invested in the existing infrastructure. Yes, you're a taxpayer too but so are all the parents whose children will remain in crumbling buildings as a result of this policy - not just in your area but everywhere a Free School is established. How can it be right to divert investment away from other schools for this purpose - Toby I'm interested in your views on this particular issue as you've swerved it to date.

Warwick Cairns's picture
Fri, 04/03/2011 - 08:31

Er... Sarah, when Toby's wife said that if he'd spent more time on his career he could afford to send his children to Eton, what she was doing was making what's known on earth as a 'joke'. Eton being notoriously expensive, you see. There's a hint in Toby's use of the phrase "My wife often jokes..."

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 04/03/2011 - 08:39

I should be grateful if Toby Young could provide the link to the evidence that British independent schools are the best in the world. The OECD document "Viewing the United Kingdom School System Through the Prism of PISA" says:

"On average across OECD, privately managed schools display a performance advantage of 30 score points on the PISA reading scale." (Page 13). This would appear to support Toby Young's assertion. However, the next sentence reads:

"...once the socio-economic background of students and schools is accounted for, public schools come out with a slight advantage of 7 score points ...(in the United Kingdom public schools outscore privately managed schools by 20 score points once the socio-economic background is accounted for)."

I understand this to mean that schools paid for by public funds do better that independent schools. However, perhaps Tony Young thinks that public schools means schools like Eton.

Perhaps this query will be clarified when Toby Young provides the link to other OECD evidence. Link to the evidence I have quoted is below:

Valery Ryan's picture
Fri, 04/03/2011 - 13:57

You only need to read Toby Young's Spectator column of 1 March 2008 to discover that the only obstacle between him and private education is his third and fourth children.

H & F Parent's picture
Fri, 04/03/2011 - 18:25

The DfE stated yesterday that "due to commercial sensitivities no decisions have been made on the publication of Free School funding agreements."

This needs to be challenged. Academy funding agreements can be released, but Free Schools' agreements can't? Free schools are academies, yes?

I am aware of at least three FOI requests to the DfE regarding Toby's school alone. If you feel strongly about transparency, then I urge you to put in an FOI request of your own.

The DfE can't be allowed to keep refusing to answer legitimate questions about proportionate and equitable funding of state education.

W Smith's picture
Fri, 04/03/2011 - 19:17

Toby , imagine if you had put all that time and effort into supporting your local state school and the state system. Just think of the thousands of pupils you could have helped educate then. Free schools are just a 21st century way of segregating, and it appears from your comments that you want that more than you want a local community. Having looked at groups showing interest in free schools, I would be really interested in your views on how they ( not just yours personally) are going to support building rather that splitting local communities.

Ben Taylor's picture
Sat, 05/03/2011 - 02:14

I still find it strange that many commentators can not understand that the process of education is by consent of the parents and pupils. If there are spare places at a school but the parents or pupils do not want to go there then they should not have to. Yes schools which lose money because children may be reallocated to schools of the parents' choosing, such as free schools, will have to find a way to manage. This is just their job. I'm fed up of people appealing to protection of producers just to force children in to schools parents don't want to use.

Any of you choose a dentist or GP? It's the same principle! Thank goodness my mother chose to recently go to Airedale hospital for urgent NHS cancer treatment rather then wait for Preston (NHS aswell) to get round to her - you just don't understand that it is the users who count first - everyone else is second.

What gives you the right to dictate where someone else's child goes to school? You need to win people over, fair enough that way if you are involved and campaigining to support local schools. But as regards forcing people to schools they don't want, just wind your neck in and leave them alone. It is none of your business.

People are making some genuine points about the capital costs of free schools - I expect that it may be the case that arrangements for cost planning or tender awards of construction on free schools mean budgets for construction can't be disclosed (otherwise the building contractors could not bid in a competitive market). Maybe there is a similar situation regarding property purchase. This is standard it was also happening on BSF projects.

For construction costs I suggest you FOI all this to DoE and relevant LAs. Ask for a Standard Form of Elemental Cost Analysis according to RICS, of the construction contracts awarded. Get a friendly surveyor to look at it who understands it and benchmark it against other public data.

Toby said WLFS would not cost more than other LA schools so I guess that means funding per pupil will be about average for borough.

Sarah's picture
Sat, 05/03/2011 - 11:31

Ben - the budgets for capital projects funded by local authorities are a matter of public record as are the funding agreements for Academies. All people are expecting is the same level of transparency in relation to Free School about how much of tax payers' money is going to be allocated to purchase/refurbish/build them. As you will already have seen the DfE have already been asked to release this information and as far as I can see they are hiding behind commercial sensitivity in quite a shameless fashion. This needs to be challenged. Gove should be quite open about how much these Free Schools are going to cost - especially in the light of the 80% reduction to school's devolved capital and an average 60% reduction in LA capital for schools. We need to be able to assess whether this represents good value for money - especially in areas where it is creating further surplus capacity.

Providing public services is always a balance between what the state considers tax payers need and what tax payers want. Turning education into a consumer product rather than a social good will not end well - there is no evidence that having an education system based on the principles of the market will in any way improve educational standards. I'm with others who suggest that parents would be better advised to spend time supporting their local school instead of seeking an elitist solution like Free Schools.

Ben Taylor's picture
Sat, 05/03/2011 - 15:34

Suggestion for benchmarking free school costs using statment from DfE website:

"Like academies, Free Schools will be funded on a comparable basis to other state-funded schools. We intend the funding model to be as simple as possible, based mainly on a per-pupil funding level, and a pupil premium for disadvantaged pupils."

Sarah's picture
Sat, 05/03/2011 - 17:26

Ben - it isn't the revenue funding that people have complained about in relation to transparency - it's the capital. And there's still no informatio being released about that even though local authorities and individual schools know exactly how much capital funding is available to them this year. How hard can it be to own up to what it's going to cost to develop these buildings?

Re revenue funding, I have to say that I am very interested in how some of these very small Free Schools are going to be financially viable particularly if they end up with surplus places because maintained schools in that position often end up with financial deficits that can only be addressed through cutting staffing, increasing class sizes and reducing the breadth of the educational offer.

Fiona Millar's picture
Sun, 06/03/2011 - 14:10

Sarah is right, the capital figures are being very well kept from view. Who is purchasing the site for free schools, how much is the refurbishment/renovation costing and in the cases of schools (like the WLFS) that are opening so quickly that they need temporary sites, is this taxpayer bearing the cost of two refurbishments? I think in the long run the government will have to release these figure and that will be politically difficult for them, particularly in LA areas that have lost BSF funding.
The revenue stream is important if there are already surplus places and not enough pupils to fill existing schools , let alone new ones, because the money follows the pupil. Sarah is right though, it may well be the free schools that end up 'unviable' especially if they their estimates of 'parental' demand' have been faulty. See my column in Guardian Education on Tuesday on this subject.

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