Would you like to have had the opportunity to win an I-Pad? All you had to do was to complete a survey for the STEM Academy
, a proposed 16-19 free school in London, by 27 January. Your competition entry would be used to show expression of interest in the new academy. And these expressions of interest demonstrate “evidence of demand”.
The survey began with this statement: “STEM Academy would be my 1st choice”. This question is mandatory and there is only one option: YES. The footnote says “that by selecting YES you are under no obligation to apply to attend STEM Academy, this information will only be used to assess the demand for places at the school in September 2012 & September 2013 and will only be shared with the Department for Education.”
This is unacceptable. STEM Academy enticed people to complete a survey by offering a prize and then worded the survey so the proposers got the answer they wanted. And then the number of respondents (all positive) is sent to the DfE to support the application.
The two Departments which have responsibility for 16-19 education, the Department for Education (DfE) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) should declare that the evidence of demand for Stem Academy is invalid. At the same time the DfE should take steps to prevent free school proposers from offering any kind of reward to people completing surveys or publishing surveys with loaded questions.
Or perhaps we can expect more of the same: “Lobby for your school to become an academy and win a Kindle,” or “Express your support for education reforms to enter a draw for a smartphone.”
The STEM Academy consultation raises two questions. Firstly, how many other free school consultations have used similarly dubious methods? Secondly, have the DfE, and BIS in the case of 16-19 free schools, ignored such machinations?