The New Schools Network is using unreliable and flawed research from America to persuade Free School advocators that Charter Schools are a success.

Allan Beavis's picture
Earlier this year, Michael Gove addressed hundreds of teachers, charities and parents at the first ever Free Schools conference, where his fellow speakers included US Charter school experts Mike Feinberg, CEO of Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), one of America’s most high profile charter school chains and Joel Klein, the former Chancellor of New York City Schools and now CEO of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp Education Division.

Gove initially promoted Swedish Free Schools as the inspiration for the model to be replicated here but by the summer, he had ditched them and moved onto giving much greater significance to the inspiration drawn from Charter Schools. The extravagant claims made by Charter School advocates, from President Obama down to the parent seeking state funded education for their children, are intoxicating and Gove himself repeated them in his speech to the Policy Exchange in June when he said:-

“And in America – where the Charter Schools system implemented by New York and Chicago is perhaps the quintessential model of school autonomy – the results are extraordinary…Charters are helping these pupils achieve amazing things. Pupils attending Charter Schools achieve better results than those who applied for a charter school but failed to secure a place in the admissions lottery”.

This enthusiasm is shared by the New Schools Network, whose website has a section dedicated to the popularity and success of American charter schools. It offers up as evidence studies which purport to show that charter schools outperform regular public schools. We are told that the results from New York City charter schools have been “extraordinary”. It claims that professors at Harvard, Stanford and MIT have carried out evaluations of charter schools and found that they improve attainment and that a 2009 study of New York charter schools conducted by Caroline Hoxby is “the most comprehensive ever to have been done on charter school students”.

But how correct is the New Schools Network to further these claims and what information have they omitted or misrepresented?

The New Schools Network does not reveal that the most authoritative study of charter school performance (CREDO, Stanford University in 2009) concluded that only 17% of charters provided superior education opportunities for their students. Almost 50% deliver results that are no different from the local public school options and 37% deliver learning results that are significantly worse. The report also finds that, despite charter schools having become a rallying cry for education reformers across the US, the study reveals, in unmistakeable terms, that in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well as their public school counterparts.

The New Schools Network omits to mention that the CREDO report uncovered a disturbing and far-reaching sub-set of poorly performing charters, which authorizers find difficult to close; that quality of charters varies enormously across the US and that their study was narrow, concentrating solely on student academic growth in reading and mathematics as the standard for evaluating the impact of charter schools.

Over the summer, the justification for the coalition’s Free School/Academy policies became ever more focused on the specific example of New York City, held up as America’s greatest charter success story and the precise model on which Gove is to replicate school reform in the UK. Gove’s advisers were quick to ensure that the government was seen to be both inspired by, and allied to, the New York phenomenon. Sam Freedman, A Gove special adviser at the DfE tweeted about the excellence of an article written by Joel Klein in Atlantic magazine, in which he justified his controversial tenure as Chancellor of New York schools - forcing schools to close, widespread standardized testing, hostility towards teachers unions – by arguing that his legacy was a greatly improved school system in New York. Rachel Wolf, former adviser to Gove and Director of the New Schools Network repeated her website’s claim, during a radio debate on Woman’s Hour , that New York charters “have reduced the gap between rich and poor students by 87% in maths and 66% in English and Languages. This is an almost unprecedented achievement.”  She repeated this claim in Prospect magazine, which Local Schools Network discussed here.

Rachel’s claim comes from a 2009 report - “How New York City’s Charter Schools Affect Achievement” by Caroline Hoxby, whose primary finding was that, on average, a student who attended a charter school for all of grades kindergarten to 8th grade (around ages 13-14) would close 86% of the “Scarsdale-Harlem” achievement gap [the difference in scores between students in Harlem and those in the affluent New York suburb] in maths and 66% of the achievement gap in English. The report stunned the education policy world and was seized on by school reformers as evidence of the undeniable and absolute success of the charter school programme. This conclusion was uncritically repeated by the majority of the American media, including the New York Daily News which announced, in rhetoric familiar to those in the UK who have questioned the motives and claims of the superiority of Free Schools and Academies, that anyone opposed to charter schools was “fighting to block thousands of children from getting superior education”.

So, how reliable is Hoxby’s report and has Rachel Wolf wilfully ignored and suppressed the major flaws of the study in order to persuade us that, in by following the NYC template, the government’s Free School policy virtually guarantees success?

Sean Reardon’s review of Hoxby’s report, published by the Education and the Public Interest Center (EPIC), urges the need for caution in accepting some of the Hoxby report’s conclusions since the results appear to overstate the cumulative effect of attending a charter school. Hoxby doesn’t actually follow any student or group of students from  kindergarten age right through to grade 8 (actually a total of 9 years). Only 25% of her sample has 6-8 years of “charter treatment”, with the majority of her sample being students with between 3 and 5 years or less in a charter.

Hoxby comes up with the “Scarsdale-Harlem” finding by estimating an average single-year gain for charter students (these being her primary results), then multiplying the single-year gain by 9 years to produce a sensational talking point. This extrapolation is a massive stretch – it ignores measurement errors in test scores, the fact that student achievement gains fade out between school year and fails to acknowledge that long-term charter students entered lotteries between 2002-3 and 2003-4 when there were only about a dozen charter schools in the city.

Hoxby does not provide enough technical discussion and detailed description to enable a reader to assess the validity of some aspect of the report’s methodology and results, so it is impossible to precisely quantify the extent of overestimation. It is therefore inappropriate to use the results seen by this small group of students attending this tiny group of schools to draw conclusions about the 9-year cumulative gains produced by the entire population of NYC charter schools, especially when as Reardon asserts, many ineffective charters were omitted from the study. Reardon’s report concludes that the Hoxby findings, promoted by Wolf as concrete facts, are so unreliable that “policymakers, educators and parents…should not rely on the estimates until the authors provide more technical detail and the analysis has undergone rigorous peer review.”

Policymakers Michael Gove and Rachel Wolf have suppressed information that does not support, or flatly contradicts, their claim that New York Charters are superior providers of education. Report after report show that the poorest do not fare better in charters. The Scarsdale-Harlem effect which they claim have dramatically reduced the gap between rich and poor is based on flawed, selective and exaggerated data.

Rachel Wolf and Natalie Evans, Chief Operating Office of New Schools Network, have not responded to requests to comment on this article.


Multiple Choice: Charter School Performance in 16 States CREDO/Stanford 2009

“How New York City’s Charter Schools Affect Achievement” by Caroline Hoxby, 2009 NBER/Hoxby

A Review of “How New York City’s Charter Schools Affect Achievement” by Sean Reardon, 2009 EPIC/Sean Reardon
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Toby Young's picture
Tue, 18/10/2011 - 17:26

I'm not sure I understand your argument Allan – or, indeed, the arguments of any of the opponents of Free Schools who cite the CREDO/Stanford 2009 study.

If the study conclusively demonstrates that only 17% of charter schools "provide superior education opportunities for their students", while 46% produce results "that are no different from the local public school options" and 37% "deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools", then that isn't a reason to stop any more charter schools or Free Schools being set up. On the contrary, it's a reason to examine the 17% of charter schools that are demonstrably better than local public schools, work out why they're able to deliver better results and then try and make sure that, wherever possible, new taxpayer-funded, independent schools resemble them as closely as possible.

The same goes for your reservations about the performance of New York's charter schools en masse (and you don't produce any evidence that they're not out-performing New York's public schools, you just question the evidence that says they are). So what if the average charter in New York isn't better than the average high school? Some are demonstrably better and those are the ones we should be learning from. To object to educational innovation and experimentation in general because the initial impact on attainment hasn't been more positive is antediluvian. Indeed, if that argument held water we'd still be living in the dark ages.

Reading your piece, I was reminded of a much more thorough summary of the research on charter schools in New York Magazine (see link below). The author, John Heilemann, puts precisely the points you make here to Geoffrey Canada, the President and CEO of the Harlem Children's Zone and the star of Waiting For Superman:

"The performance of Canada’s charters – which saw some of their test scores decline appreciably when the state recently toughened up its grading system – is a subject of furious, as-yet-inconclusive debate. But the argument Canada makes for charters doesn’t rest on the success of his or anyone else’s endeavors. 'The whole point of charters is that you can close the ones that fail,' he says. 'I’m all for it! You close them and constantly innovate, and things get better.'

"Canada’s mention of innovation gets me thinking about a recent front-page article in the New York Times that reported on the mediocre or dismal performance of many charter schools. To critics, this is proof that the charter movement is a washout, when the data actually demonstrate no such thing – for as any student of technology will tell you, innovation is built on failure. The point of letting a thousand flowers bloom isn’t that they will all survive. It’s that most will die but a few will flourish, and those hearty varietals are the ones that should be cloned and planted elsewhere."

I'd be interested to hear your response to this, as well as Janet Downs's. In the absence of more innovation and experimentation, how do you propose to bring about the much-needed system-wide improvement in England's state education system?

Fiona Millar's picture
Tue, 18/10/2011 - 19:25

As this article makes clear, Geoffrey Canada's schools get a great deal more money than other public schools and offer a wrap around cradle to grave service for families, including health and other family/parenting interventions. These are the sort of reforms ( and investment) we should be seeking here if we really want to make a difference to poorer children, not schools that use their admission to exclude the less well off as some of the early free schools are doing.
As someone whose children were educated in a failing primary school - I wouldn't recommend it as an educational approach. It is demoralising for staff, pupils and parents alike. Schools take a long time to die and usually get demonized in the process.
Much better to ensure all schools are good schools and help them improve where necessary, rather than improve some at the expense of others.

Toby Young's picture
Tue, 18/10/2011 - 22:32

Which Free Schools are using their admissions policies to exclude the less well off?

Allan Beavis's picture
Tue, 18/10/2011 - 20:52

Let’s get back to the original point I was making. Why is NSN and the government modelling school reform in the UK on a New York, or American, model that has been controversial, failed to raise standards across the board and most definitely not for the most disadvantaged Americans? If the policy is based on the 17% (which is a really small percentage of kids across America) which are successful, why don’t our policy makers tell us what lessons they have learnt from these and exactly how the unique New York model can be transferrable to each city, town and village in Britain so that, unlike the Americans who have been charter-ing for 20 years, we will succeed not at 17% but, say, 80% to justify the costs and resources invested in Free Schools and diverted away from community schools?

And what of this innovation and experimentation spreading outwards beyond charters and raising standards also in public schools? In 2009, when Mayor Bloomberg was running for re-election as New York mayor, he boasted of state test scores that showed two-thirds of city students were passing English and 82 percent were passing maths. But these results were misleading, as those scores were inflated by exams that had become easier to pass. In 2010, more difficult and realistic tests were introduced in the first attempt to establish what the officials considered a more trustworthy measure of students’ abilities. As this New York Times report shows, the results was not miraculous - more than half of public school students in New York City failed their English exams, and 54% of them passed in maths. Joel Klein jumped ship in autumn 2010 and went to work for Murdoch.

The Rutgers University report shows how philanthropy can make a huge impact on the performance of a charter, as the example of Geoffrey Canada and HCZ shows. Let’s look at his star turn in “Waiting for Superman”.

Canada has a board of wealthy philanthropists and a very successful fund-raising apparatus. HCZ has assets of more than $200 million, Canada himself is paid something like $400,000 a year. If all inner-city schools had the same resources as his, they might get the same good results. But not even Canada with these resources achieved “amazing results”. In 2010 state tests, 60% of 4th grade students in one of his schools were not proficient in reading, nor were 50% in the other. Also – and I find this even more shocking – Canada excluded his entire first class of middle school students when their test scores failed to satisfy his board of trustees, stuffed with philanthropists and politicos.

Two of the three major US philanthropists – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation – sponsored “Waiting for Superman”, a film so one-sided, heavy-handed and superficial that it cannot be taken seriously as a piece of journalist filmmaking. It is no more than a propagandist but powerful weapon on behalf of those championing the “free market” and privatization.

Last year alone, The New York Times published three stories about how charter schools have become the favourite cause of hedge fund executives. Correct me if I am wrong, but is ARK dependent on charity raised by hedge fund managers? Charter Schools raise important questions, but all of the answers it offers require a transfer of public funds to the private sector. The stock market crash of 2008 should suffice to remind us that the managers of the private sector do not have a monopoly on success.

Natacha Kennedy's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 07:27


These failing charter schools have already cost the US taxpayer huge amounts of money over and above what is spent on community schools. They have had these schools in the US for 20 years. Even the "better" 17% are likely only to be better because they have more money to spend than community schools.

Whilst charter schools enjoy financial and other adantages over community schools trying to find out what makes all but 83% of them better would be a futile exercise and probably nothing more than a political gimmick. I would welcome genuine educational research into charters but suspect genuinely independent educational researchers wouldn't be allowed anywhere near them.

Why should we not instead try to find out what makes community schools better than 37% of charters and as good as 46% whilst costing the taxpayer less? That is surely more fruitful.

Your argument that the failure of charter schools over 20 years in the US is no reason to stop setting up charters and "free" schools is not supported by any argument. Indeed if a business which provided a service which was more expenesive than its competitors whilst providing a worse service overall than its competitors, it would go out of business. The only reason charters have not been allowed to do this is because of political pressure from the far right. Charters have failed in the US and have failed in Sweden. Yet still the media/political class and business press for their retention, against the ideology of competition which they otherwise espouse.

Since 83% are either worse or no better than community schools, whilst costing more, that constitutes a particularly powerful argument to stop setting up any more charters of "free" schools and st redirect these wasted funds into community schools. In contrast you have failed to provide any serious argument to support you contention that charters/"free" schools should be permitted to continue.

Melissa Benn's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 08:04

Talk about changing the goalposts! So the purpose of the charter school/free school experiment is not now to improve education but to facilitate innovation at the unavoidable expense of some portion of a nation's schoolchildren.

Fine if you are living and learning on Geoffrey Canada's patch in Harlem, where investment is so impressive; too bad if you are at one of the rogue charter schools where you will mainly learn about the perils of an unregulated, market based approach.

There's nothing new in all this. Keith Joseph was singing the praises of bankruptcy in relation to the public services decades ago.

Still, we should be grateful to Toby for so baldly setting out the fundamental objectives of current education policy. The Coalition does not dare.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 08:56

Anyone interested in how free schools can use admissions to socially engineer their intakes should listen to this edition of Beyond Westminster . The Bristol free school is situated in a disadvantaged postcode but has been given permission to admit pupils from a more advantaged area. The school's founder is explicit: "Being a free school gives us the right to choose our catchment area". Poor children who live next door to the school are excluded.

Toby Young's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 09:29

Not true Fiona. Poor children who live next door to the Bristol Free School are not excluded. Take a look at the admissions policy:

As you can see from the map indicating the school's Admissions Priority Areas, 80% of places will be allocated to children applying from the areas immediately bordering the school.

Yes, the Bristol Free School has drawn up its admissions policy, including its Admissions Priority Areas, in consultation with the local admissions authorities and neighbouring schools, but then, plenty of schools do that, including Academies, Trust Schools, Voluntary Aided Schools, etc. Indeed, you could equally say of William Ellis School, where you're Chair of Governors, "Being a voluntary aided trust school gives us the right to choose our catchment area." The Bristol Free School enjoys no more latitude when it comes to drawing up its catchment area than your school.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 10:12

I suggest you listen to the interview. The founder is clear that they have chosen the local areas that will include the more advantaged parents. Michael Gove has approved this because he is obviously happy for some schools to socially engineer their intakes, in spite of his public statements suggesting that free schools are about 'narrowing gaps' and benefitting less well off children.

It is quite wrong to say that free schools are like maintained schools in this regard since their admissions policies are enshrined in the funding agreement rather than the statutory legal framework for maintained schools. The funding agreements are not publicly available - and certainly not while the schools are being set up - yet they allow free schools a waiver from the Code which can't possibly be known about if they remain confidential documents.

It is true that trust, foundation and aided schools can have more freedom over their admissions but the statutory process and consultation they must follow is quite different to that of free schools and academies for the reasons I have given.

At least the academy funding agreements are in the public domain. Those of the free schools are not, so we are unable to see at this stage how they have chosen to use the extra freedoms they have been given. Maybe you can tell us when they will be published?

Toby Young's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 09:16

You've lost me Natacha. Why does it cost the US taxpayer more to educate a child in a charter school than a public high school? And I knew you were Left-wing, but describing President Obama as "far right" is a bit over the top. After all, he's a staunch defender of charter schools.

Toby Young's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 10:15

Ah, the old "we shouldn't experiment when it comes to our children's education" argument. No one's forcing parents to send their children to charters or Free Schools, Melissa. On the contrary, parents are beating down their doors. Or is your position that less well-off parents who can't afford to move or go private shouldn't have a choice when it comes to their children's education just in case they make a bad one? Good luck selling that to the electorate.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 10:23

I believe several of the new free schools aren't full, . This suggests that there aren't quite enough parents beating down their doors, or that they have been set up in areas where they are already enough school places and are a waste of public money which could be better spent on existing schools.

Toby Young's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 10:30

Hang on Fiona. Either Free Schools are underscribed, in which case they're a waste of public money, or they're oversubscribed and excluding poor people. You can't have it both ways.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 10:34

Both of these things are happening - probably because free schools are not part of a locally accountable planning process and also because they have extra freedoms on admissions. All in all a bad mix.

Toby Young's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 11:10

Fiona, you seem to be under the impression that Free Schools have much more latitude than they do when it comes to admissions. It stipulates in the Model Funding Agreement (available on the DfE's website) that a Free School's admissions policy must be "in accordance with admissions law, and the DfE's Code of Practice, as they apply to maintained schools". As for not being part of a locally accountable planning process, the Funding Agreement also states that "the Academy Trust will take part in any mandatory Admissions Forum set up by the local authority ('LA') in which they are situated and have regard to its advice; and [will participate in the co-ordinated admission arrangements operated by the LA] or [will not participate in the co-ordinated admission arrangements operated by the LA for the first year of opening but will participate in such arrangements operated by the LA in subsequent years] and the local Fair Access Protocol."

While it's true that the Secretary of State can grant leave to a Free School (and, indeed, any Academy) to depart from the Admissions Code of Practice, any departure would have to be included in the school's published admissions policy. If it was kept secret, as you suggest it could be, the school would be vulnerable to legal challenge on the grounds that its published admissions over-subscription criteria were at variance with its actual over-subscription criteria. Unless the Trustees of the existing 24 Free Schools have been poorly advised, their admissions policies will be completely transparent and available on their websites and by request.

In the case of Bristol Free School, the school was always intended to serve an area that doesn't have a local comprehensive. However, the proposers couldn't find a site slap bang in the centre of that area so they've located the school in a nearby site but drawn up their Admissions Priority Areas around where they intended the school to be and where the demand for school places is greatest. In effect, the school has created a notional school gate. Contrary to what you've implied, that is compatible with the Admissions Code of Practice and, consequently, doesn't require the Secretary of State to grant them leave to depart from the Code in the Funding Agreement. As I'm sure you know, plenty of Local Authority maintained schools base their admissions around notional school gates. Local Authorities have as much difficulty as Free School proposer groups finding sites in the areas where demand for school places is greatest so it would be unreasonable for the Code to prohibit basing admissions around notional school gates.

Incidentally, the Model Funding Agreement also states that the Free School must "admit all pupils with a statement of special educational needs naming the Academy" and "adopt admission oversubscription criteria that give highest priority to looked after children, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the School Admissions Code". Not much latitude there.

As regards publishing the actual Funding Agreements that the 24 Free Schools have signed, my understanding is that the DfE is intending to do that in due course.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 12:14

I am glad you have acknowledged what we have been trying to establish for some time. Free schools and academies are not obliged to abide by the Code of Practice as they can vary their funding agreements. I understand that some free schools like this one in Canary Wharf are including priority admissions for the children of founders, although this is not included in the current Code of Practice. This implies that the freedom to act outside the Code of Practice is already in train. Incidentally this school does NOT make its admissions readily available on its website as far as I can see.
Also good to see you acknowledge that the Bristol Free School has been given permission by Michael Gove to serve a more advantaged area, as the founders state.
If the first 24 schools are already open, there is no reason why the Funding Agreements shouldn't have been published already. Surely the individual schools could put them on their websites even if the DFE doesn't want to publish them?

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 12:33

Bristol Free School (BSF) admissions policy refers to an Admissions Priority Area (APA). The APA is split into two: the outer areas of responsibility and the inner area of responsibility. The inner area comprises Henleaze, Stoke Bishop and Westbury on Trym (three relatively affluent areas of Bristol) while the outer areas of responsibility are those areas of Southmead and Sea Mills which BORDER the inner areas of responsibility. Sea Mills is a suburb with a population that varies enormously from relative affluence to significant deprivation and Southmead is significantly disadvantaged. Only 20% of the school’s places are allocated to the outer area (10% each to the borders of Southmead and Sea Mills) while 80% of the available places are allocated to the inner area of responsibility.

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 12:52

Also I think it is the case that there are already enough places in that part of Bristol, in face some surplus places so this new school may not even be needed.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 13:06

The Government and the New Schools Network (NSN) constantly hype the achievements of charter schools. But they quote only that evidence which appears to support their promotion of charter schools. In doing so, they ignore the fact that there is conflicting evidence. As Machin and Vernoit conceded in their report on Labour’s academies, “The literature [about charter schools] is not without controversy. Recent, typically small scale, experimental evaluations of charters in particular US cities (Boston and New York) find positive impacts on educational achievement (see Abdulkadiroglu et al 2009, Dobbie and Fryer, 2009, and Hoxby and Murarka 2009). Wider coverage non-experimental evaluations produce more mixed results (CREDO 2009)”

The Government and NSN brush aside these mixed results, just as the Government ignores positive evidence about the English state education system (eg the above-average achievement of English 15-year-olds in the PISA 2009 science tests; the highest marks in Europe in the Trends in Maths and Science Survey 2007; OECD evidence that showed that UK state schools outperformed private schools once socio-economic background was factored in). The Government also ignore warnings from the OECD (much repeated on this site) that while the academies and free schools programme can increase user choice the policy needs careful monitoring if it is not to impact negatively on the already disadvantaged. And OECD also found that evidence about the effect on educational outcomes of user choice was mixed.

Toby Young's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 13:54

You're so relentlessly intellectually dishonest, Fiona, it must be exhausting. You say you've been "trying to establish" this "for some time", as if I've just made some startling admission, when it's right there in the Model Funding Agreement for Free Schools on the DfE's website and has been for at least six months. See Clause 12, section (c):

I have no idea what's in the Bristol Free School's Funding Agreement, but as I said Michael Gove would not have had to grant the school special dispensation to base its admissions around a notional school gate since that's allowed by the Code.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 14:57

The Model Agreement is just that – a model agreement. It lays down all the clauses that would be expected. However, what the model agreement cannot show is the information which would be contained in the Annexes to the agreement: the land and buildings, admission of pupils, admission of and support for pupils with SEN or disabilities, or the policy on pupil exclusions.

A Freedom of Information request to publish the funding agreement for the West London Free School was refused on the grounds that “The Government has already determined that it will publish Free School Funding Agreements on the Departmental website in due course.” There was no indication about how long “due course” would be. In any case, a search on the DfE website for the funding agreement for WLFS was unsuccessful.

The FoI refusal also said, “It is not reasonable for the Government to be expected to release piecemeal information in advance of its planned timetable and planned publication of Funding Agreements, and there is a strong argument in favour of allowing everyone to view this information at the same time. If it were to release this information as requested on varying occasions this would result in partial information being released over a protracted period leading to confusion and inaccuracy.”

24 free schools have opened. There should be, therefore, 24 funding agreements published in full on the DfE website. Perhaps someone could direct me to the section of the DfE website that contains this information as I have been unable to find it.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 15:03

Very few people have any idea of what's in the Bristol Free School's Funding Agreement except the academy trust of the school and, of course, Mr Gove. And that goes for all of the 24 free schools.

I think you're getting rather confused, Toby. You say that the Model Funding Agreement for Free Schools is there for all to see on the DfE website, but then you say you don't know what's in the Bristol Free School's Funding Agreement. A funding agreement is either transparent or opaque - it can't be both.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 15:49

It's interesting that the model funding agreement for free schools (see Toby's post above for link) has a reference to free schools being on the Register of Independent Schools. As the Policy Exchange/New Schools Network advocated before the last election - there is no reason why profit-making companies shouldn't be allowed to run state schools, all that is needed is for them to be reclassified as independent.

How long will it be before profit-making companies set up free schools and academies?

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 15:58

Sorry to be exhausting you! You appear to be trying to confuse two points . I agree that the Bristol situation could be permissable under the Code, although doubt it would have been approved under previous administrations. The point here is surely that Gove has approved it when he states publicly that these schools will benefit disadvantaged pupils.
The second point regards the freedoms some new schools now have to opt out of the Admissions Code. Whenever I or anyone else has tried to explain that independent state schools have freedoms on admissions that maintained schools don't have, the stock response from you and others is that "Free schools have to abide by the Code". Now it turns out that this isn't the case and that the model free school funding agreement actually includes loopholes that are not even included in the academy model funding agreement. Next it will be free schools that want to interview, to check out primary school attendance records, get references from primary head teachers, ask pupils about their parents marital status...all the things that the Code has attempted to eradicate. Added to which if parents or any other local admissions authority wants to complain about how admissions of any sort are administered by the school, ultimately they have to complain to the Secretary of State to get this resolved and this one is clearly quite laid back about what schools do. I doubt we are ever going to agree on why this is dangerous but at least we are now agreed that it may go on.
Enjoy half term - I am sure you must be ready for a break from your Chair of Governors duties. I know I am!

Mark Luscombe's picture
Wed, 19/10/2011 - 18:32

"On the contrary, it’s a reason to examine the 17% of charter schools that are demonstrably better than local public schools, work out why they’re able to deliver better results and then try and make sure that, wherever possible, new taxpayer-funded, independent schools resemble them as closely as possible."

I would suggest a more straight forward way to make the comparisons would be to take the 17% of charter schools and compare their them with the public schools in the 37% of districts where local schools perform better. Evaluate the impact on performance from such factors as funding per head, factors impacting upon intake which such as socio-economic factors and whether or not any selection policies are in place.

My guess that such a study is more likely than not come up with a diverse and complex set of findings that will come to no firm conclusions about whether one type of school is better than another. Your analysis of only a small percentage of apparent success stories appears to be more about trying to prove the surperiority of one model over another rather than discover the common factors that successful schools share.

Loic Menzies's picture
Thu, 20/10/2011 - 12:29

Toby surely if what's interesting is that 17% of Charters outperform the average local schools then it's equally interesting to look at the above average local/non-charter school?
The problem with focusing so much on types of schools is that it distracts from looking at what is actually making the difference in the school. Similarly, when politicians selectively use only academies as examples of fast improved schools it ignores the overlaps between what's being done in fast improving academies AND fast improving community schools. It draws people's attention to the structure rather than the activity. I'm as impressed by the improvements made at BDA for example, as anyone, but I'm also interested in the improvements down the road at St. George's RC.
If you look at outcomes in the 'average' school then by definition you will find schools that are above and below average. There's nothing that exciting about saying look! "17% of this type of school are above average, let's have that type of school!" it's far more interesting to focus on how we can spread the good practice going on within those top ones. The crucial question then is, "what type of system best facilitates the spreading of that good practice." London Challenge was one answer, Teaching Schools will be another and a strengthened Ofsted could be a third but I'd love to see discussion focused more on finding other ways.

Toby Young's picture
Thu, 20/10/2011 - 12:39

I agree with almost everything you've said Loic and I wouldn't advocate that all schools should become Academies/Free Schools on the grounds that they're the only type of schools in which innovation and experimentation can take place. I don't think they are. But I think they're more likely to try new things (as we're doing at the West London Free School by making Latin mandatory in KS3, for instance) and that's one reason why those who care about raising standards across the board shouldn't oppose them. Would BDA have gone from being a school in special measures to one in which 75% get five good GCSEs including Maths and English if it hadn't become an Academy in 2007? Maybe, but probably not.

Loic Menzies's picture
Thu, 20/10/2011 - 12:58

But if community schools *are* less likely to experiment (which I'm not entirely sure about) then given that so many will still be community schools, if experimenting is the key to improvement (again, not sure of that) then we need to do something to make sure all schools including community schools experiment. If experimentation makes schools better and only certain types of schools experiment then we're not going to end up with a more equitable system just but quite the contrary. This just doesn't seem very logical strategy.
...and: Could BDA have achieved what it did as a non-academy. Again- a distraction from what really makes the difference. I mentioned St George's precisely because it did achieve similar improvement at exactly the same time, is just down the road (kind of) and did so despite a history that arguably made it even more of a challenge and without the sort of investment that comes from a swanky academy turn around project. Despite all that it became the 5th most improved school in the country yet not being an academy, never gets a mention. My point isn't that one is better than the other- just that we need to look at what both of these schools are doing rather than allowing the debate to be sidetracked into the wrong focus through selective choice of examples.

Toby Young's picture
Thu, 20/10/2011 - 12:41

"Next it will be free schools that want to interview, to check out primary school attendance records, get references from primary head teachers, ask pupils about their parents marital status…all the things that the Code has attempted to eradicate."

You're being alarmist, Fiona. Michael Gove is far, far more cautious than that.

Have a good break.

Loic Menzies's picture
Thu, 20/10/2011 - 12:45

Except that in the US parent satisfaction with Charter Schools has generally peaked in the midsts of the hype and excitement of the first year or two after opening and then tailed off as problems accumulated after that. (am trying to find you the reference on that research. I *think* it's either Meyerson, Berger and Quinn 2010 or Miron & Nelson 2002, but need to find my notes). That'd suggest that "beating down their doors" doesn't necessarily indicate high quality education on a sustainable basis.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 20/10/2011 - 14:05

What the NEPC study on New York charters recommended is that, given the huge variations of funding and attainment between charters as well as between charters and public schools, city officials ought to narrow the gap by making available facility, operational and funding resources more equitable across the board to all charters and community schools. This would make assessment of each school’s success much fairer, lessen the perception that Charters are delivering better results and increase the chances of every school to provide good education, as mentioned here

I'm not sure that Free Schools have the monopoly on "innovation" and "experimentation" especially those who opt to deliver a much reduced and selective curriculum. Real innovation is seen in countries where there is no segregation or selection and where all children go to the local school, which does not compete in a fight to the death arena with other schools perceived to be, or promoted by the government, as "superior" because of tables published to judge schools purely on exam result statistics.

A more egalitarian and honest approach towards increasing attainment across the board is needed. Diversification, competition and polarisation is not the answer.

Charter success in New York, as delivered by the coalition, is not the unqualified success Gove and Rachel Wolf pretend it to be, so they now really need to stop propagating that inconvenient untruth and consider the recommendations that resources are applied across the board to all schools and not some.

It is tiresome that some school "reformers" still cannot stop themselves from pitting one type of school against another, as if the education of our children is a commodity to be exchanged or rejected with no consequence. I hear of no community school supporters keen to see an Academy or Free School failing. The more media-savvy and entrenched Free School advocators, however, continue to take pleasure in putting the boot into failing schools in an increasingly more desperate attempt to persuade us that the new schools are the answer and the only hope. Well - the American and the New York examples show how they have failed.

It is interesting that, since Joel Klein left, realistic tests have been re-introduced into New York and the results are depressing not just because they ought to be better, given the trumpeting of New York Schools "unprecedented" achievements but because it seems as if Klein may have made exams easier to fit in with his free market approach to education.

Allan Beavis's picture
Thu, 20/10/2011 - 14:12

Gove may be cautious or cunning or both but he and the New Schools Network have definitely been less than transparent. Why don't you publish your Funding Agreement for West London Free School? That would clear up quite a few issues that people have and we could see what, if anything, there is in your Annexe B to modify the Admissions criteria. From what I understand, there is a possibility in the new Education Bill which could allow priority being given to children of Free School or Academy proposers.

Natacha Kennedy's picture
Thu, 20/10/2011 - 19:22

You tell me why it costs more Toby. It is the politicians and right-wing business supporters of these schools that are the cause of their funding advantages. I suspect that the miserable achievements of charters in the US would be even worse if it were not for additional funding.

You still haven't responded to the point that the most comprehensive study of charters has found them to be an expensive failure, and as such why should we be throwing good money after bad copying such a failed system? And whay should we not try to find out how many community schools do extremely well in challenging situations, and with less money than charters.

BTWCalling someone left-wing isn't an argument, it's just an attempt to get out of arguing the point which you have quite transparently tried to do. I suspect most people will draw appropriate conclusions from this.

Natacha Kennedy's picture
Thu, 20/10/2011 - 19:31

Latin. Why not teach them something useful?

Japan has more than a million vacancies jobs, mostly for young people, the UK has a million unemployed young people. For example. one of my friends in Osaka runs the largest provider of environmental technology to the construction industry. He cannot find enough people to employ as installers. Why not teach your pupils Japanese, and they stand a chance of getting a job there? Even a right-winger like yourself should be capable of understanding that they are more likely to get a job there than obtaining work in ancient Rome, most of which was unpaid anyway.

JimC's picture
Sat, 22/10/2011 - 07:06

Ah a call for transparency from Allan. Spot on. Care to oblige us Mr Young? Are the documents available on your website? Shame on you if they aren't.

PS I read about your new school the other day and I must say I'm thus far unimpressed. Plenty of existing schools have Karate club, teach latin and enforce a conservative hair policy - is setting up a new school really the most cost effective way to implement these services?

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