Question in Lords about STEM Academy I-Pad prize offer

Janet Downs's picture
Baroness Walmsley followed up a story first highlighted here on the Local Schools Network about the STEM Academy offering an inducement in a slanted survey to assess demand for the free school. She asked Lord Hill what the Department for Education was doing to ensure that evidence of demand for a proposed free school was not inflated by such dubious practices. Here is the exchange in the House of Lords:

"Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the quality of teaching of engineering and other science and technology subjects is important? Perhaps he will he join me in condemning the following practice. A survey was sent out to assess the demand for a 16 to 19 STEM free school, which offered an iPad as a prize for completion, and gave only one option on the question as to whether the school would be the person's first choice? That answer was yes. What is his department doing to identify such exaggerated demand, and will he specifically ban the offering of incentives and the use of unbalanced questions?

Lord Hill of Oareford: On the first point about the importance of STEM subjects and making sure that there are teachers able to teach them, as my noble friend will know, we are working hard to encourage the supply of those well qualified teachers. On her second point about the free school application, I am grateful to her for bringing it to my attention. It is the first time I have heard of it. I will refer it to the officials who will be carrying out the first sift of the applications, because the important test of evidence of demand must be genuine evidence of demand for a particular school."

Baroness Walmsley left this message on our earlier thread before she asked her question:

“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.”

The Baroness is correct – any consultation to assess demand for a free school should be carried out by an independent third party. This incident raises the question: how many free school consultations are equally questionable?

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Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 16/03/2012 - 16:33

There was a thread last year which reported that petitions of highly dubious quality were not being checked.

Can anyone find that thread and does anyone know what the state of play is regarding this problem now?

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 16/03/2012 - 17:08

Rebecca - is this the thread you were thinking of (link below) or did you have another one in mind?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 16/03/2012 - 19:47

No it wasn't that one. It wasn't posted by Henry. It documented how one free schools proposal had used a petition that was 2 years out of date and wasn't fit for purpose and that that schools approval had exposed how the DFE wasn't actually checking the evidence.

I think it might have been from about March last year.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 27/03/2012 - 19:54

It was this one:
Sorry I didn't notice your post here before Janet. I don't know why this site doesn't let me know about threads I've posted on any more!

Janet Downs's picture
Sat, 31/03/2012 - 11:43

UPDATE: I have heard from Michael Gove via my MP. This is what he said:

"Mrs Downs raised concerns about the use of prizes in a survey of potential parents by the STEM Academy, which is a proposed Free School in London. I can assure Mrs Downs that we will take full account of how the survey was conducted in assessing this Free School application."

Mr Gove did not answer my question asking what steps the DfE intended to take to prevent such dubious practices in the future.

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