Flagship free school collapses due to lack of interest -- how many more are to come?

Francis Gilbert's picture
The Guardian are reporting this evening that the Newham Free Academy are not going to be running a free school this year because of lack of interest. This is a huge embarrassment to the Coalition because it was exactly this kind of school that they wanted to encourage: a "no-frills" free school which would compete with existing comprehensives in an area of high deprivation that would "close the attainment gap". It appears that parents in the area are happy with existing provision, which, if you look at Newham closely, is largely quite good. Instead, it's clear that the free schools movement is appealing to parents from wealthier backgrounds, as has been predicted many times on this website. This is a policy that fuels social segregation and will not close the attainment gap. Now we have evidence that it's wasting taxpayer's money before a single child has been educated. How many more failed free schools will it take before the government shuts down this disastrous initiative?
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Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 09:30

This again raises questions about "evidence of demand" which is supposed to be shown before free schools are given the go-ahead. Yet, whatever "demand" was demonstrated for Newham Free Academy has collapsed when it came to applying for places. This is also the case with Beccles Free School which has only attracting 37 applications.

Significant amounts of taxpayers' money is invested in supporting free school applications - someone has to pay for the legalities (setting up trusts and companies, for example), the websites, the PR. And if these aren't funded by the proposers themselves, then who is footing the bill?

Perhaps if proposers were told they would have to reimburse the taxpayer if the evidence of demand turned out to be significantly smaller than was first indicated they would be less inclined to use "expressions of interest" as evidence or persuade people to sign forms in return to an inducement as was the case with the STEM academy.


Applications should also be judged against the need for extra school places in an area. If there is no need, then applications should not go ahead.

Ben Taylor's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 12:16


Peter Hyman should get a look in at Guardian

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 12:39

Stephen Twigg, Shadow Secretary of State for Education, told "Children and Young People Now" "that the decision to drop plans for the school so close to its expected opening, raised concerns about a waste of public money."

“We have learned that another free school plan has collapsed at the eleventh hour – just weeks before the school was due to open,” Twigg said.

“At a time when education funding is being cut by the biggest amount since the 1950s, the government must explain how much money has been spent on failed projects like these.

“Ministers need to get a grip on this programme to ensure money is not wasted on projects that are unlikely to succeed.”


Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 13:03

The consultation for high-profile School21, endorsed by Lord Adonis and Sir Michael Wilshaw, received an "overwhelmingly positive result" with 3/4 of respondents strongly-agreeing with the school's vision. 2,000 leaflets were distributed to residents and letters sent to local schools, booklets given to local businesses and groups, and booklets and letters sent directly to all parents who had expressed interest.

So how many parents took part in the consultation? Just 12. There were 22 responses altogether - 15 strongly agreed with the project.

If parents were really interested then they would have taken the trouble to take part in the consultation. But only 12 did. Which raises the questions: how many parents expressed interest in the first place? and if the consultation only managed to get signatures from 12 parents, then why did the DfE give the school the go-ahead to open at the beginning of September with a supposed 75 pupils in Reception and 75 in Year 7?


Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 20:28


DfE today confirmed that School21 was oversubscribed and all available places have been taken up for September. The same goes for the other free school in the area - Excellence Academy.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Thu, 19/07/2012 - 20:29


I'm not sure on what basis you call Newham Academy a 'flagship' - I take quite a close interest in free schools but have never heard of this one.

The other two Newham free schools got loads more media coverage.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 20/07/2012 - 12:24

I think it's fair to say that all those free schools approved in the early stages are flagship free schools as there are so few of them.

I heard from a local last week that quite a few of the Beccles Free School applicants have now pulled out. He through they're now down to about 20 students.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 20/07/2012 - 13:19

Rebecca - you're right to say that the words "flagship" and "free schools" appear together because they're so few of them. They're also a central plank of Government strategy which is why it throws millions at them. It's reasonable, therefore, to say that free schools are a "flagship" policy. And the media likes alliteration - words beginning with "f' lend themselves to being described with forceful adjectives.

What concerns me increasingly is the way these schools can recruit staff and ask for applications before consultations have been done. This implies that the consultation is a paper exercise (this is confirmed by the Beccles situation) and the school would go ahead anyway. Full consultations, which could include considering the effect on neighbouring schools and whether there is a need for extra places, should take place before schools are allowed to recruit. It would also avoid dubious "expressions of interest" being put forward as evidence of demand.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 20/07/2012 - 13:30

Try looking up 'flagship' in a dictionary.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Fri, 20/07/2012 - 13:28

This implies that the consultation is a paper exercise

It is. It arose out of late amendments to the academies act that government reluctantly agreed to in order to prevent the bill being delayed in the Lords. It was pointed out at the time that they would be a fatuous waste of time, but certain Lib Dem peers wanted to grandstand a bit.

.... should take place before schools are allowed to recruit.

Can't be done. Too little time.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Fri, 20/07/2012 - 15:13

Knowing said Lib Dem peers and the network and the network of people who surround them, having spoken to them at length about these issues and having discovered how easy it is to get involved and can personally assure you and any readers that the raising of these concerns was nothing to do with grandstanding and all about roots democracy operating to express very strong concerns despite operating in a climate in which the Lib Dems were not supposed to be saying anything about education outside early years.

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