Interesting new evidence about location of free schools

Fiona Millar's picture
Thanks to @beckybose on Twitter for alerting us to this article about the locations of new free schools.

It explains "the average property asking prices in the areas around the new Free Schools are £126,430 more (or 57.5%) than the UK average (currently £219,513)."

Two of the new schools (ARK Conway Primary Academy and St Luke’s Church of England Primary School) are surrounded by property worth over £1,000,000 on average, both of which are in London.

This may explain the relatively low FSM figures thrown up by School Duggery's investigation into the social make up of these new schools.
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Jake's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 09:48

I think as a journalist Fiona you would do well not to take things at face value but perhaps spend a bit of time validating for yourself. Why? The article you link to says that the average house price around ARK Conway is £1,339,310. As a Londoner, this seemed a lot of money to me for that area of west London. So I looked up the post code of the school (W12 0QT) on Rightmove and hit 'enter'. What came up? Big houses for sale at c£795k or less. For example there is a 5 bedder for sale at £769k. Now this is by no means a qualitative study but it does show the £1.3 mill figure is bonkers - out by some margin. Or perhaps the area is dominated by 10 bedroom mansions that are not on the market at the moment? Who can say.

That aside, as the season of goodwill approaches, for all you Kindle new-agers on LSN might I suggest this as the perfect prez for someone? Pre order now to beat the rush!

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 10:01

£795 000 still likely to be well above the reach of an average inner London family with children eligible for FSM. Thanks for standing up the story.

Jake's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 10:11

You are just being plain silly now Fiona arent you? £795k is for a very large house. Pro rata down to a flat for example and I'm sure the area becomes more affordable, in addition to housing association or council housing stock in that area of London. That said London is an absurd place to buy property for anyone looking to get on to the housing ladder, but that is a different debate. So far from 'standing up' your story (nice try) I have shown that if the £1.3 million is wrong then how many of the other figures are to be taken at face value? If your left wing ideology excuses lazy journalism then you do yourself no favours.

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 12:10

There is probably a range of properties in the vicinity of these schools but it is also the case that a great deal of evidence is emerging to contradict the government assertion that most free schools will be in deprived areas. Those that are in mixed residential areas appear to have found ways, via branding and admissions, to keep their FSM figures down compared to other schools in those areas.

Jake's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 12:21

Thank you for confirming my point (that there is a range of properties). I was only pointing out the potential inaccuracy of the particular article you linked to above, no more or less. In terms of what constitutes 'evidence' or otherwise one would have to look behind the information to see who has paid for and/or collated the 'evidence' and why they have done so. Wholly objective sources are rare, especially when political ideology is at play.

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 13:08

The evidence on what a great job community schools are doing in deprived areas is also clearly documented in this years HMCI Annual Report.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 11:54

One free school is upsetting its neighbours. Residents near the Ark Conway School are angry because plans to build a new school building next to the refurbished free school have been approved. Two coach loads of protestors went to the planning meeting on 9 November 2011 to express concern but they were overruled.

The strange thing is that Apollo Education announced in early July that it had won the contract to convert an unused library into the free school and also to construct a new 2-storey building on the site. It would appear, then, that the contract for constructing the new building was issued months before planning permission had been received.

Jake's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 12:09

This is a very tenuous link to the point Fiona's original post Janet! And you (like Fiona) should be less eager to jump to conclusions. Your article links say the construction contract has been won but this does not in technical terms mean the form of contract has been executed. I don't know the details of the project, but it is more likely that the works have been contractually phased, with the new build element not formally placed pending planning approval.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 13:19

You're correct Jake, it was a tenuous link, but I was considering location and went off at a tangent. Fiona's original point was the price of houses surrounding free schools. This led me to think about the effect of the sudden appearance of a free school in a neighbourhood on existing residents. But you're right - I should have considered this in a separate thread. As for jumping to conclusions - I've given the links and one of them (Construction Enquirer) clearly stated in July 2011:

"Construction for the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham in partnership with the education charity, ARK Schools is now underway with the job due to be finished next October [ie 2012]"

Of course, the article could have just been referring to the refurbishment but the article contained an artist's impression of what the proposed 2-storey building looks like. You may be correct in saying that the new building was pending planning approval but that's not the impression in the article. And Apollo's own publicity said in July:

"The newly constructed element of the school will be built to act as a barrier to the adjacent A40, creating a peaceful courtyard play area and providing a buffer against noise pollution. The partners are working closely with English Heritage and will build the school in materials which harmonise with the period brickwork and will restore the historic copper cladding of the dome of the existing library. As a low rise two-storey building the school, will preserve views of the landmark library for the community."

So it appears that Apollo was working with English Heritage, deciding on construction materials and considering the design as early as July. Of course, it may be that outline planning permission had already been given and they were working on the finer details. If so, the existing residents didn't seem to know about it if this month's protest is anything to go by. If you could throw any more light on the matter, it would be helpful.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 13:31

Jake - you are correct in saying that "wholly objective evidence" is difficult to find especially when "political ideology" influences the "evidence". That's why I try to find objective evidence from respected organisation such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This is particularly important when faced with the relentless hype for academies and free schools from the Government.

One Government mantra has been that free schools will help disadvantaged children and evidence seems to be emerging that many of them are not.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 13:37

Interesting comment by Jane Eades posted moments ago on an older thread. Although it addresses the controversy surrounding eveidence of parental demand, it highlights further concerns about the location of free schools which is relevant to this thread.

"Further evidence of the falsehood of the “evidence of parental demand” or any sort of demand criteria is in the news that Gove has asked for a survey of buildings which could be used as a ‘free’ school. One of these buildings is in Balham, nicely placed between two outstanding schools and where there has been no demand for a ‘free’ school. Apparently, having been thwarted in Lambeth, Katharine Birbalsingh is interested in acquiring the building."

"In Wandsworth secondary schools there is already a surplus of places and, although the Council claim that with rising birth rates there will be a need for more places, these can be provided by current plans and are needed in another part of the borough. In addition, Wandsworth “imports” about 1000 secondary students from Lambeth at the moment."

"So no demand, no need but still the building is on offer to a ‘free’ school!!"

Jake's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 13:49

Wandsworth and Lambeth being separate LAs of course albeit adjacent. Given that Jane Eades is the national treasurer of the Anti Acadmies Alliance there is nothing she says that would be remotely objective in relation to free schools, so one would be very interested to see the data/evidence upon which her statements are based.

Jake's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 13:41

Project teams always have to work up detailed design with the likes of EH before planning permission is submitted, otherwise council officers will have nothing upon which to grant consent or rejection. Planning committee dates are milestone points in any project, and this particular date was the one when the application is considered and so the point at which the public can attend in the public gallery at the town hall. Prior to that formal committee date there would have been a period of many weeks when planning officers would have taken on board all comments in favour or against the planning application submitted by the contractor. I think you are confusing the reality of the procurement/contract process with PR in the media - which are two very different things. The former is complicated, especially on projects like this, where there are two buildings (one existing, one new) probably across a phased process and tight timelines. But as I say I dont know the details of this particular project.

Jake's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 14:16

Two statements on the recent HMCI report from the Rt Hon Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton:

"There are still far too many underperforming schools making painfully slow improvements. It is worrying that Ofsted finds that 800 schools are stuck steadfastly at a satisfactory rating in inspection after inspection."

"The OECD and other international evidence is clear that school autonomy is the key driver of higher education standards. Academies’ GCSE results are rising consistently far faster than the rest of the school system, often from a low starting point and in challenging circumstances"

So it appears there is still a great deal of work to be done in the state sector overall notwithstanding a number of undoubted success stories.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 14:53

Thanks, Jake, for pointing out the mismatch between PR and actual procurement. I'm still, however, confused about the planning. At what point are local residents informed, if at all? It seems that in the case of Ark Conway the protests from locals have come too late in the process to affect the decision.

However, as you said, this is veering off-thread, except where it throws light on the whole free school policy - location is one concern among several such as evidence of demand, the extent to which the school will help disadvantaged pupils, transparency and the cost of building or refurbishment. Bolingbroke, for example, is being refurbished at a cost of just over £12 million from PfS. However, this price seems to compare favourably with the cost of two new build academies in Lincolnshire: £12 million and £9 million respectively. However, Bolingbroke, like many of the free schools, is in a Grade II Listed Building. Such buildings are expensive to maintain and run, and are subject to many restrictions.

Jake's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 15:25

There is a min period of 8 weeks from submission on planning to committe decision. Very often this period is longer for larger more complex projects. The LA publishes public notice of all planning applications inviting 3rd party comments. So it is not the case that locals were consulted late in the process. The whole process is very open and transparent as it should be.

In terms of free school capital costs - these will be peanuts on a cost per pupil basis compared to the BSF capital costs. I dont know how many free schools are or will actually be in listed buildings - you state 'many' but how do you know that?

In terms of the life cycle costs these will have to be funded from the revenue grant per pupil (which is the same formula for all state schools) so I do not think anyone running a school will take on board a significant risk here given how little the revenue per pupil is (roughly between £4k and £7k per pupil depending on location and other factors). Put simply if the ongoing R&M costs against a listed building were too great the school would simply not go ahead as the economics would not stack up.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 16:49

In May 2011, 10 out of the 17 free schools approved at that time were set to be in listed buildings. These include Nishkam Primary School (Birmingham), Discovery New School (Sussex), Krishna Avanti Primary School (Leicester), Langley Hall Primary Academy (Slough) and Ark Conway. It's likely that some of the independent schools which became free schools are also in listed buildings - Sandbach School, for example, has buildings designed by George Gilbert Scott.

I'm not sure about transparency in planning matters - planning application notices can often be hidden in the public notice section at the back of local papers. Or a sheet appears on a lamp post. People who are directly affected are informed in certain circumstances (like a two-storey extension on the house next door). But it doesn't follow that everyone in the vicinity is told. The residents near Ark Conway don't seem too happy.

Jake's picture
Thu, 24/11/2011 - 17:09

There were 24 free schools opened in September but I do not know how many of the balance of 7 you excluded are in listed buildings. I think there are roughly a further 60 odd to open by next September - again I have no idea how many of these will be in listed properties.

In terms of planning applications, there are many channels these are posted on over a long enough duration - local media, council websites, public notices, including direct letters sent to those who live or work nearby the relevant site as you note. So if the locals near ARK Conway are not happy then they have only themselves to blame. They should have organised and campaigned as soon as the council letters dropped on their doormats. The fact that they have not acted in good time is hardly the fault of the council nor the applicant.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 25/11/2011 - 10:31

In the case of Ark Conway there were two coach loads of protestors lobbying the planning meeting but their objections were overruled. It should be remembered that this Government wants to relax planning rules making protests even more unlikely to succeed. At the present time the rules for publicising planning applications for a major development require three things only: advertisement in a newspaper (usually in small print in Public Notices), notifying the owner or occupier of immediately adjacent land (not all neighbours as Jake suggests, just those immediately adjacent), and a site notice. Comments then have to be made within 21 days of site notification and within 14 days of an advertisement.

Plans to develop free schools could slip through if the application doesn’t make it clear that the proposed development is for a free school. For example, the application* (lodged 26 November 2010) for Langley Primary Academy in Slough to use Langley Hall was not lodged in the name of the proposed free school, or the company behind the school. It was lodged in the name of the owner of the company. The application requested D1 use of an existing building. Anyone wishing to protest against the use of this building for a free school would (a) have had to know that the applicant wanted to open a free school, and (b) that D1 meant educational use.

Of course, this may be an isolated incident. But there is a lack of transparency around free school applications as well as disputed evidence that their location would help disadvantaged children – this brings us back to Fiona’s original point.

* (search for Langley Hall)

Jake's picture
Fri, 25/11/2011 - 11:00

Janet, it is simply not the purpose of the planning regulations to regulate whether free schools are a good or bad thing - you are getting horribly confused over this. Further the current rules you detail above are simple enough to follow. You took the time to figure them out and you are not an expert - why can't others do the same? If people do not take the time to understand the process then they cannot be that concerned about a proposed building development in the first place. Ignorance is not an excuse. Turning up on the night of a planning committee meeting is no more than a photo opp for the local paper - as you outline yourself, comments are invited well before that end point in the process. The government wants to relax the current overly complex planning regs to cut through red tape and so help promote economic growth, something we all need at this point in time given that the Eurozone is about to implode. With respect you need a bit more clarity of thought because blaming the planning regs for not controlling free schools is simply the wrong starting point.

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 25/11/2011 - 20:05

I was very interested to see that the Bolingbroke Academy has recruited its head teacher from my daughter's outstanding ( in Ofsted terms and my own opinion) local community school. Parliament Hill School is a great school, serving a very mixed vibrant local community . Good to know too that the maintained comprehensive sector is there, providing excellence, when the free school sector needs us.

Ben Taylor's picture
Wed, 30/11/2011 - 01:08


Would you interview the headteacher who has moved to Bollingbroke? It might be very interesting to see what this head thought a free school had to offer against a maintained one, although I suspect this is more likely to give you answers you don't like than it would be for me.

Allan Beavis's picture
Wed, 30/11/2011 - 01:24

You're not making sense again Ben....

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 11/01/2012 - 11:45

I have posted this in more detail elsewhere but again would like to draw attention to the fact that , due to its enforced location next to a poor area the Bristol Free School is proposing to redefine its catchment area for 80% of places to take in the affluent area to the south of the school . The school sits at the north-east corner of its proposed catchment area . The consultation is on their website . Read it and weep.

Presumably this will be a change to its fundign agreement

Fiona Millar's picture
Wed, 11/01/2012 - 17:31

Is the Funding Agreement publicly available yet?

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 11/01/2012 - 20:17

Rosie Fergusson's picture
Wed, 11/01/2012 - 20:26

Annes B of the FA states

"7.If the Academy does not consider the relevant area determined by the local authority for the maintained schools in the area to be appropriate, it must apply to the Secretary of State by 1 August for a determination of the appropriate relevant area for the Academy, setting out the reasons for this view. The Secretary of State will consult the Academy and the LA in which the Academy is situated in reaching a decision."

I presume 1st aug means 1st aug every year ( as agreement dated)

Section 5 of Annex D ( dealing with exclusions seems to me dodgy --do they imply if you exclude a child in Nov of the school year you get to keep his funding money ?Also they don't have to consult with the LA about an exclusion ( talk about every child matters !!). Strange how the LA has to ask the Schools permission to admit an SEN child but the school does not have to consult to exclude a child!!

It states :

"5. The exception to the duties imposed under paragraphs 1 and 4 is:
• the Governing Body of the Academy Trust is not expected to seek the advice of a Local Authority officer when considering an exclusion, although a Local Authority officer may attend any

subject to the Academy Trust’s obligations under clause 30 of this Agreement relating to an agreement with the LA on the flow of funds following an exclusion, the arrangements for money to follow pupils who have been permanently excluded from school does not apply.

Ark Conway Parent's picture
Wed, 11/01/2012 - 19:42

I happened along this article after searching for information regarding the dissatisfaction with this school. In short, I enrolled and was awarded a place for my child at this school. My child started in September 2011 and is among the first cohort. All I can say is its been on MAJOR disappointment.
The marketing and literature is great, but I can say first hand, its not as described "on the tin." I have come to the sad realisation that I would have been better to put my child in a LA school. They may not be great, but at least you know what you are getting.
Very disappointed indeed!

Fiona Millar's picture
Thu, 12/01/2012 - 14:35

Would be interested to hear more about how you feel the school differs from the marketing hype?

Ark Conway Parent's picture
Thu, 12/01/2012 - 23:18

This opinion is based mostly on the literature from the school itself. This seemed to be supported by what press was available at the time, hence my decision to apply for a place. The first and only class is a reception class with 30 children, 1 teacher, 1 aide, and a trainee teacher. There is also an inclusion manager on staff, and the head.

The school is marketed to be an alternative to LA schools and with a mission to serve children who are in deprived areas (inner city) or under service and under performing.
Out of a class of thirty there a small handful of non white students. Without any specific numbers, it's no exaggeration to say that the majority are two parent homes, and of an economic class that many, I am guessing, could easily afford private education.

That aside, the school markets itself as having high standards, emphasizing the goal of helping each child to reach his/her full potential. In this regard they fail. Children of all abilities are group together and taken at a slow deliberate place. This seems to work well for those who are, for the lack of a more politically correct term, less able.

However for many others, and certainly the more able, the children are under achieving. The slow pace and basic nature of the lessons leave my child bored. The teaching staff do not like to be challenged or questioned. The idea of communication between the home and school was non-existent. This was addressed by many parents and as a result an "area of concern" the school has pledged to improve.

The school also lacks what seems the ability to plan ahead, and the word "oversight" is often used by the school staff when there is an apparent lack of planning. Sadly the lack of planning has often lead to my child's disappointment, and on more than one occasion, tears.

The marketing material promotes a school that has academics at heart, and a philosophy that challenges the child and inspires excellence learning. What you get in reality, is slightly glorified version of a nursery, with some phonics and basic numeracy thrown in for good measure.

Jake's picture
Fri, 13/01/2012 - 08:34

How many other parents at the school share your view? Have you or anyone else raised your concerns with the local governing body?

Fiona Millar's picture
Fri, 13/01/2012 - 10:59

All parents now have the chance to comment on their children's schools here without being identified. Maybe that would provide you with an opportunity to raise some of these issues?

Ark Conway Parent's picture
Fri, 13/01/2012 - 18:24

Some parents do share the same views, and others have raised different concerns to my own. There is a parent forum and it seems that of all the meetings I have attended there is always a "fresh" list of concerns. Maybe its because its all new and there are still getting settled and discovering the oversights.

Ark Conway Parent's picture
Fri, 13/01/2012 - 18:25

Thanks for the link. I have left some comments. It appears I am the first to do so for this school. I will share the link with other parents as well.

Jake's picture
Fri, 13/01/2012 - 18:30

If the 2nd term of a reception class in a new school has barely commenced then it is still very early days indeed. Probably no need to panic just yet!

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