Who is running the Free Schools project - the DfE or the Free Schools proposers?

Tracy Hannigan's picture
We have received two more Freedom of Information Act request responses from the Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

Some of the response, which is outlined in the original blog post on the fulfillment, was in relationship to the local authority and the now temporarily abandoned free school project put forward by Rivendale.

Another bit may be more widely interesting. Included in the response were the minutes of the meeting in October 2010 between James Woods (Rivendale Project Manager) and H&F Council in which the project and its progress with the DfE were discussed. A few points:

1. The DfE was reluctant to hand funding over to a company. This is an interesting statement because as of the date of this post, Rivendale is not a charity yet - so obviously the DfE has handed funding over to a company despite the reluctance indicated in the notes. James Woods said he had gotten £144K, and the DfE's spreadsheets actually identified Rivendale Eduation Ltd as getting £33K in March 2011. To our knowledge Rivendale is still pending charity status, for whatever that is worth in the case of free schools. This may be part of what is referred to in the DfE video by the promoters of the free school when they discuss disagreements between Rivendale and the DfE (the publication of which is surprising given it is a production of the DfE.) I can't help but wonder if the DfE feels they 'need' to do this in order to get more Freeschools up and running, and if it is a lead in to handing money over to for profits?

2. James Woods, Project Manager, wants to be employed by the Trust. This runs in stark contrast to statements minuted in the Consultation meeting on 15 February 2011 that he has no conflict of interest. He unequvocally stated this and backed it up later by saying that his company (Schools Plus) has a model which would not work in primary schools.

3. James Woods' preferred Governance structure seemed to be an issue for the DfE. The notes indicate that the preferred structure is that the Trust appoints the Governors, and the Governors are to be made up by members of the Trust. 'The department hasn't conceded yet, but hasn't put forward any statutory obstacles either'. Interesting statement. It implies that the DfE doesn't really like this kind of arrangement....but what to do? This may also be one of the 'disagreements' referred to in the DfE video by the Rivendale proposers. Who won that one? I guess we won't know until a Rivendale school opens.
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Ian Taylor's picture
Sun, 19/06/2011 - 22:32

I am interested in education but I am finding the Free School developments more and more confusing, so I guess the average person has no idea about what is going on.

I know that education and banking don't seem to have much in common, but if we go back a few years I think there are similarities. The Labour government seemed to welcome deregulation of banking controls and the Conservatives wanted even more relaxation at the time. George Osborne was talking about the great Celtic Tiger economies. Banks could do whatever they wanted. As long as everyone made money, no-one complained or asked questions. However it was not real money. There were the sub-prime loans. When the financial crash happened the Conservatives blamed Labour for not having enough controls and forgot that they had supported the policies. The man in the street had no idea that any of this was going on, but had assumed that his government was filled with wise politicians whose job it was to manage all this stuff: surely the politicians understood all this!

We now seem to be entering a stage in education policy where the Conservatives are removing all controls and the Labour Party do not seem to be objecting. (Even key Labour people are setting up Free Schools). No-one follows a National Curriculum and it does not matter what you teach children. As long as we seem to be getting good exam results from Academy Chains, let's not ask too many questions about the quality of the investments. Lets have lots of derivatives (Free Schools) which no-one understands. Let's have quango/Academy bosses making lots of bonuses.

When the crash happens, who will get hurt? Will Labour forget that they did nothing, and just blame the Conservatives? Will we wonder why we are spending so much money on surplus school places? Will we still be educating people to be on the dole (which we have shrunk)?
The man in the street has no idea that any of this is going on, but has assumed that his government is filled with wise politicians whose job it is to manage all this stuff: surely the politicians understand all this!

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 20/06/2011 - 08:59

It was interesting that in the video the proposers kept stressing "getting rid of red tape" as a reason for setting up the school. This, they said, would allow teachers to take control and lead effectively without the need for bureaucracy. Don't they realise that free schools (and academies as well) have to take on all the administrative and legal burdens that are removed from schools by local authorities (LAs). Far from tying up schools in red tape, LAs relieve schools of much of it.

It was also revealing that the proposers admitted that they and unshakeable ideas which the DfE would have to accept. As the school is still being proposed, can we assume that the DfE has accepted this ultimatum, and, of so, what was it?

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 20/06/2011 - 09:07

Gove quoted in the Mail today: ‘The rationing of good schools must end. Our reforms are about creating a generation of world-class schools, free from meddling and prescription, that provide more children with the type of education previously reserved for the rich.’

I presume he means from LA authorities? So it's meddling and prescription from Gove and central government from now on then? Oh - and profit making companies of course, who have done little to raise standards in the US beyond many of the wealthier states but who have lined their own pockets very nicely.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Mon, 20/06/2011 - 10:29

I wish someone would give a number of specific examples of LA red tape from which academies and free schools will be freed.

As a Head until the mid 2000s the worst redtape I encountered was from the Department for Education or whatever its current title.From the original, impossible to manage, national curriculum through to the ludicrous governors' parents meetings (where governors always out numbered the parents), anything the LA threw at us paled into insignificance compared with what Baker and his successors demanded.

Ian Taylor's picture
Mon, 20/06/2011 - 15:03

Michael Gove's speech 20/6/11 to The Policy Exchange on Free Schools
http://bit.ly/iM24BR He has all the answers to every problem that affects UK plc.

I like the bit where he says “the top education nations are uncompromising in their commitment to rigorous accountability”.
Unfortunately accountability is the one major thing that is almost totally missing from his Academy and Free School experiment.

I have to hand it to Mr Gove. He can make the biggest load of codswallop sound sensible. Facts do not get in the way of his policy decisions, although he uses “facts” as though they are indisputable. I find it quite frightening that a few words from one man, can shape the educational future of the country.

Mr Gove is a clever man. He has a religious fervour!
Does the DoE do “Risk Analysis”, or is that heretical?

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 20/06/2011 - 15:46

Mr Gove loves that word "rigorous". It sounds so tough and uncompromising. Accountability means different things to different people. In Finland, for example, teachers are accountable to parents and municipalities who evaluate the education provided by their schools. The Finns don't assess for school accountability purposes, but for diagnostic or formative reasons. The lines of accountability in Finland are from the bottom up. One of the key characteristics of Finnish teachers is a belief in the "deeply moral and humanistic... civic and economic" core mission of Finnish public education. The next level of accountability rests with the schools themselves - the larger community trusts schools and this engenders in teachers a sense of responsibility for every student's success.


Compare this with Mr Gove's idea of accountability: league tables, floor standards (based on GCSEs which he wants overhauled), raw exam results. His accountability is based on quantity (how many pupils get a particular level) rather than quality. And it will have the opposite effect in raising standards by encouraging teaching to the test, crowding out other essential skills and demotivating pupils. For example, the Advisory Committee on Mathematics Education (ACME) warns that the government's obsession with "short-term accountability" is undermining the need to produce skilled mathematicians. ACME warns that preoccupation with tests turns pupils off.


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