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?