Interesting new 'fact check' about the progress of the Coalition free schools policy

Fiona Millar's picture
This is a good update on the progress of the free schools policy from Cathy Newman at Channel Four. It indicates several things. Firstly this policy is moving so slowly that it is very unlikely to create the 200 000 new school places the Tories talked of before the election. Secondly many of these projects will be serving already advantaged areas, in some cases they are private schools that are opting into the state sector and giving parents currently paying fees a prize like 'winning the lottery', as one dad who will now be saving £9000 a year put it. Finally finding the sites is proving extremely difficult which suggests that a more sensible, cost effective approach might be a continued focus on the improvement, or if necessary the expansion, of existing schools.
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Ian Taylor's picture
Thu, 09/06/2011 - 19:06

When this TV programme was aired on Channel 4 this evening there was an interview with Michael Gove. He was asked by Peter Snow about Batley Grammar and whether a private school charging £9,000 per annum, becoming a Free School, fitted government policy. Michael Gove said it was an excellent example of how you could now have a private school education for free because of the government's education policies.
I am at a loss to understand how Michael Gove can get away with statements like this. The income per student in a state school is likely to be around £3,000 per year. To me this strikes at the heart of the government's Free School policy. The general public are being sold the lie that you can have a private education with small class sizes and a wide curriculum, costing £9,000 per year, at a cost to the state of £3,000 per year. Can someone explain to me how Michael Gove can get away with this? How is Batley Grammar going to operate on such a reduced income? Come on Andy Burnham: pick up the ball on this one.
We are going to have Toby Young on later this evening on BBC2 on Andrew Neil's programme, spouting more lies I expect. I hope someone will challenge him robustly. But I'm not holding my breath.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 09/06/2011 - 19:40

I doubt whether the BBC will embarrass Young too much - after all they invested a fair amount of the licence fee in a drooling documentary about him setting up his Free School. Perhaps another guest on the show will expose him. That Gove chose Young as the poster boy for Free Schools does illustrate how spectacularly the government have misjudged both the policy and its spin.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 09/06/2011 - 21:39

Is the Batley Grammar being funded 9K per head from the state? You have a point then perhaps - what are the facts - is there a source?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 08:09

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 08:41

This is another example of Mr Gove belittling the state education system. He implies that a private school education is superior to that of state schools (free schools and academies excepted). He has built his policies on this argument: state education, poor - private education good - taxpayer funded "private" education better. This despite OECD data showing that UK state schools outperform privately-managed schools when socio-economic factors are taken into account. And this is the man who is supposed to be in overall control of state education - no wonder community schools have disappeared from the DfE website.

Ian Taylor's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 10:20

This report shows how complex state school funding is
Funding can vary from one LA to another by huge amounts. However, if you look at the graph on page 18 of the report you will see why Free Schools will never be able to provide a Private School education at State School costs. When you consider that private schools do not have to cater for the range of abilities, background, and social problems shouldered by state schools, you will see that the funding gap is even more dramatic: state schools should receive more funding than private schools. One can only speculate on how this funding connundrum will be overcome. I am sure that at the moment, Michael Gove has no idea. In fact he might not even appreciate that he has a problem here.

Steve Sarsfield's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 15:16

Why I feel so strongly about FS’s

Whilst the funding and general politics surrounding FS’s is grossly unfair and I tend to agree with many of the posts on this site, it’s the curriculum that is of greatest concern to me.
Look at Toby Young’s WLFS and its curriculum. They have deliberately constructed a narrow set of curriculum subjects so that they can have small class sizes. The result of all this is that subjects like DT and Food do NOT even feature at WLFS (and probably at many of the other proposed FS’s).

The national curriculum in the state sector gives a child an entitlement to such subjects (in KS3) and helps to educate our youngsters for LIFE. Not simply to pass exams.

How can the FS’s be allowed to ignore Food as a subject and such a major life skill. Every child needs to learn about healthy eating choices and how to prepare and cook simple wholesome dishes.

Whilst I detest George Osborne, in his budget speech March 2011 he made the following remarks
“We want the words: Made in Britain,Created in Britain, Designed in Britain, Invented in Britain…….to drive our nation forward. A Britain carried aloft by the march of the makers.

That is how we will create the jobs and support families”.

None of this is important to Toby and his steering committee at WLFS.
I find myself asking this fundamental question.

“How can a brand new school like WLFS be set up in the 21st century (at tax payers’ expense) and NOT teach the life skills that every child will need?”

Please Toby, how, in today’s world, can Latin and ancient history be of more value than Technology or Food?

This government should not be signing the huge cheques to run these private enterprises that can teach pretty much what they like. They have a responsibility to educate children so that are healthy and have healthy lifestyles and provide a modern, forward looking curriculum that empowers our children.

Steve Sarsfield
June 10

Ian Taylor's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 15:45

I agree with what you say about the curriculum and Free Schools, but the government's muddled thinking on the curriculum goes much wider and further, and totally undermines the speech you quote from George Osborne. The newly introduced English Bacc, combined with league tables designed to shame schools, is pushing the school curriculum for all state school children, towards a narrow set of subjects.
Technology education will disappear from our curricula. If we are to "make, create, design, and invent", then technological subjects should be part of a core curriculum for all children, or at least a major option available to all. It is already disappearing from our secondary school option subject offer, across the whole country.
I suggest that the cause of this shortsightedness is the narrow/priviledged educational backgrounds of most of our senior politicians of all parties, and the media professionals who report on them.

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 10/06/2011 - 16:29

I hadn't seen the George Osborne speech but always find it interesting that the Prime Ministers wife studied for an Art and Design qualification at university and is widely hailed as being a very successful businesswoman in a company that generates income for UKplc, yet these subjects are now being downgraded. Michael Gove has been particularly scathing about Textiles GCSEs and A levels in the past - these courses are actually quite difficult and also help sixth formers into the fashion world which seems to be one of our few national success stories at the moment.

Ben Taylor's picture
Sat, 11/06/2011 - 01:06

Children can still study these things you have complained about

For modern civil society we need;

to be numerate
to be literate
to know about our past
to know about the world around us
to be able to communicate beyond our own culture


ebacc is a baseline, get your comprehensives doing this plus other good things like DT and food

Don't stand in the way of people like WLFS who I am sure will try to exceed ebacc

If they fail let them be accountable

What about you?

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 11/06/2011 - 01:35

Ben -

Free Schools don't have the monopoly on forming a basis for a modern civil society. Comprehensives also teach how

to be numerate
to be literate
to know about our past
to know about the world around us
to be able to communicate beyond our own culture


You mention WLFS. This is a school which so far has narrowed it's vision of the world by cutting out subjects which reflect the modern civil society we live in. A school, who's head made offputting comments about the curriculum which doesn't suggest much understanding about the world around him. And a founder, who's constant snide comments in the media about people who don't share his politics or world view and who saw fit to malign a school celebrating and communicating diversity, seemingly unable to communicate beyond his own culture.

If comprehensives fail, Ben, they are accountable. If WLFS fails, it is "accountable" only to Gove, who has invested a great deal of money and his reputation into this enterprise so come hell or high water I'm sure he will fling whatever he can at it to make it succeed. They do it in Charter Schools in America, Ben. They exclude the undesirables to prop up the success rate. I wonder if that is the kind of accountability we can expect from Free Schools and WLFS?

Talking of accountable, it's high time the WLFS told us how much and what is in their Funding Agreement. And accountable also means coming clean about who is not telling the truth about the partnership with the London Oratory. You seem to be banging the drum for WLFS. Perhaps you can answer these questions of accountability? Thanks!

Ben Taylor's picture
Sat, 11/06/2011 - 11:47

I don't disagree with alot of what you say Allan but look at the WLFS page about their curriculum and tell me how it is narrow? The head has said some students might not want to study this curriculum, I think these people should be offered choices at other schools. It is their right to choose and the state should provide.

Yes the funding agreement needs to be published, not sure why the DfE wants to wait I agree it is not best. Toby Young said on This Week that funding per pupil is in range 5 to 6 K so there is a baseline, see tail end of the clip;

Allan Beavis's picture
Sat, 11/06/2011 - 15:13

Thanks Ben. I am aware of the curriculum to be offered at WLFS. It's classical emphasis offers an unbalanced and regressive type of education, cutting out specific subjects like technology which are not only teach us about "the world around us" (your quote) but are essential in this modern age if children are to engage and benefit from it.

I find this curriculum self-consciously apes the feudal curriculum of private schools, an opinion reasonably formed having read Young's statement that WLFS will be an "Eton of the State Sector". This statement reveals much about the snobbish, divisive ideology at the heart of this Free School (and many others, I suspect) so I don't think it offers real choice at all. It makes promises, that it hopes it can fulfill when it finally opens, only to that section of people who cherish aspiration for themselves and turn a blind, or even wide-open, eyes to the segregation this causes. Young is keen to spout the mantra that poor (and even gay!) children are welcome at the school but it's set-up speaks volumes about it's cherry-picking of the deserving plebs at the cost of the undeserving ones.

I know what he said on This Week but so much of what he says is so misrepresentational, back-tracking, or just not quite true that I think I'll wait for the Funding Agreement to be published. I think a lot of what Young and the government don't want us to know about the costs and haphazard way Free Schools have been granted their licence is being deliberately held back until it's too late for anyone to do anything about it. Like the new Admissions Code, in fact. You might think this is choice. I call it school apartheid.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 12/06/2011 - 08:48

Thank you, Ben, for alerting us to the fact that WLFS pupils will receive more per head than pupils in other maintained schools. The estimated figure for 2010/11 as given in Parliament is £4082.88 per pupil. If the funding at WLFS exceeds this average by between £1000 and £2000, and if this is the same for other free schools, then there will be other maintained school pupils who will receive bellow-average per-capita funding. Perhaps that's why the DfE wants to wait to publish the funding agreement - parents in other maintained schools are not going to be happy.

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