Free schools contract put out to tender – but was the New Schools Network the only realistic candidate?

Janet Downs's picture
The DfE has given a further contract to the New Schools Network (NSN) to offer support to organisations wishing to run free schools. Unlike last year when the contract was not put out to tender but awarded directly to NSN, the DfE asked for interested parties to apply to do the work.

A Freedom of Information request showed that only one other organisation put in a bid and was unsuccessful.

The DfE said that it would expect “to award a grant to an organisation that can offer relevant experience and expertise to prospective Free School applicants during the pre-application stage.” The letter awarding the contract, which is worth £1,050,000 to March 2013 with an option to extend the grant for one year, said that NSN’s application showed how it had “helped many groups” and its “response on carrying out the core activities was exemplary”. The unsuccessful applicant, on the other hand, showed “limited evidence of setting up 4-19 provision.”

The NSN was the only organisation heavily involved in helping prospective free school applicants so it is unsurprising that no other organisation could match it. It appears, therefore, that the DfE went through the motions of asking for other bidders when it knew that no other group could possibly have had the same expertise as NSN. It was probably astonished that another organisation actually put in a bid.

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