Win an I-Pad! Complete a survey for a proposed free school

Janet Downs's picture
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?

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Sarah's picture
Sat, 18/02/2012 - 16:10

I think it's quite scandalous that free schools and academy converters are held to a much much lower threshold of propriety when it comes to undertaking consultation than local authorities would be if they are consulting on changes to educational provision. I think it's high time that someone took the DfE to judicial review on this (as the decision maker on such flimsy evidence). Local authorities find themselves in court having to defend the very robust processes they go through on school closures for example. I cannot understand how such different standards are applied by DfE to the consultations undertaken by governing bodies on academy conversion and by free school proposers. There appears to be no proper scrutiny of this at all.

James Catchpole's picture
Sat, 18/02/2012 - 18:06

James Hargrave has blogged about this inflation of "demand" here:

It references this blog.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 19/02/2012 - 09:22

Thanks, James, for the link. I notice from James Hargrave's blog that one of the proposers behind the Beccles free school is Melanie Tucker, Principal and Head of Marketing at MTM Consulting, a firm which, among other things, offers support to groups wishing to set up free schools. The involvement of someone who stands to make money out of the establishment of free schools has the whiff of self-interest about it.

If I were MTM Consulting I would want to distance myself from the Beccles Free School consultation documentation which contains spelling/grammatical howlers and inaccurate information. Not a good advert.

James Catchpole's picture
Sun, 19/02/2012 - 15:47

I'm not sure there is anything wrong with this if it is all disclosed from outset. If you think it through, almost everyone involved with a Free School proposal will have an interest of some sort. I suppose financial interests always raise eyebrows.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 19/02/2012 - 17:06

The consultants, marketing firms, lawyers, and so on who have jumped on the free school bandwagon have a vested interest in promoting free schools whether or not they are needed. It is in their interest, therefore, to encourage the view that English state education is failing and they are on hand to help groups who want to "encourage excellence", "let a thousand flowers bloom", "help prevent another generation escape from failing schools" etc etc. In the same way it is in the interest of the New Schools Network to push an image of plucky pioneers fighting on behalf of children and delivering "higher quality education".

There's money to be made. And who's paying for the consultations, the websites, the brochures, leaflets, property searches, legal fees, and advice? Ultimately it's the taxpayer, of course.

Rachel Wolf of the New Schools Network told the TES that £600 million is going to be allocated to free schools over the next few years. That's £600 million that could be spent on repairing existing crumbling buildings or expanding existing schools.

No wonder she's "delighted" that free schools are now, by law, the "preferred option" for new schools.

Tracy Hannigan's picture
Sun, 19/02/2012 - 13:47

Absolutely mind boggling. I wonder if the DfE would make them have another go if this? (I know, but I can't help but want them to....)

Jane Eades's picture
Sun, 19/02/2012 - 18:57

The Michaela Community School made everyone going to their "consultation" lecture sign in and will, presumably, claim that as people interested in their school, although at least 2 of the meetings had a majority against the school.

Westminster City Council used the same sort of biassed trick questionnaire to "demonstrate" that there was popular demand for closing North Westminster.

Leonard James's picture
Sun, 19/02/2012 - 21:24

False names are the order of the day for that sort of know Seymour Butts or P.I. Staker. Alternatively you could sign in as Micheal Gove or Sheriff Wilshaw.

Alan's picture
Sat, 25/02/2012 - 14:42

Janet - I thought the iPad was a symbol of entrepreneurialism, of blue sky out the box thinking but I guess there are always caveats attached to the dark side. The Chinese have taken iExploit to the next level; they have developed a vocational model of slave labour for building them. Our 16-19 education should stay clear of this distortion.

I think these tactics are outrageous and amount to fraud. It just goes to show that the Liberal Democrats were right, when the Academies Act was going through Parliament, to ask that those who proposed to open one of these new schools should not be allowed to carry out the consultation. I'm afraid we failed to persuade the Government that this would risk distortion of the results. I have asked an oral question of Lord Hill, the Academies Minister, in the House of Lords this morning. Have a look at Hansard on-line tomorrow for his reply.

Guest's picture
Thu, 15/03/2012 - 23:31

Thank you.

Our area desperately needs post16 provision but not on these terms. Unethical competition between academies to manage floor targets may already mean fewer children with special education needs are admitted.


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