So why are free schools established? Is it to help the disadvantaged or the underperforming? Is it to fill a shortage of places? Is it to allow teachers to set up their own schools? Confused messages from the New Schools Network

Janet Downs's picture
"Free schools are set up for two reasons – to help underperforming children or to provide places where there currently are none. The biggest crisis is in London and the south-east, and this is just as much in middle-class areas as deprived ones. These two different motivations are the reason the overall picture looks confused," said Rachel Wolf, director of the New Schools Network (NSN), which advises free school proposers, in the Guardian.

Originally, free schools were supposed to provide much-needed places or help the disadvantaged. It now appears that “disadvantaged” has been replaced with “underperforming “. According to Wolf, many free schools are set up to help “underperforming children” so theoretically there should be a higher proportion of struggling pupils admitted to schools allegedly set up to tackle underperformance. It will be interesting, therefore, to discover how many of these free schools take a higher proportion of pupils whose attainment is below-average at the start of key stages 1 and 3 than neighbouring schools.

As it is unknown how many underperforming children are admitted to free schools, perhaps we can gain some insight by looking at whether second wave free schools are in areas where there’s a high proportion of failing schools. NSN lists* 20 local authorities (LAs) with the highest percentage of Ofsted failed schools at the end of 2011. But second-wave primary free schools were established in only three of these areas. At secondary level, second-wave free schools opened in only three of the 20 LAs.

Perhaps Wolf was thinking of LAs where the proportion of pupils reaching the expected levels at ages 11 and 16 is lower than the national average? Again, NSN lists* such LAs. And again, the vast majority of second-wave free schools were provided in areas outside the 20 LAs where raw results were worst.

So are free schools being provided only in areas with a shortage? NSN lists* 20 LAs where there is an expected shortfall of school places in 2014/15. It should be expected, therefore, that the majority of free schools would be in these areas. But new primary free schools were provided in only four of the primary shortage hotspots (5 primaries in total) and extra secondary places (three schools in total) only appeared in three of the 20 LAs where forecasts showed that extra places would be needed.

But Wolf added a third reason – this time reverting to the seemingly-discarded one: disadvantage. But her first thoughts were not with the pupils. Instead she emphasised the involvement of teachers by saying “passionate teachers want to support the very poorest pupils in communities where results and aspiration have been low for generations.” But the figures above show that most free schools are not opening in areas where results are low and FullFact found it’s not yet clear whether free schools are benefitting the disadvantaged. Finally, it’s not necessary for “passionate teachers” to take time out from teaching in order to set up free schools to help disadvantaged pupils in low-performing areas – there are thousands of teachers who already do this with no fuss or fanfare.

*NSN lists can be dowloaded here: primary and secondary

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Sarah's picture
Sat, 08/09/2012 - 13:37

In reality the DfE are so hell bent on pushing free schools that they want to approve any free school application which has the slightest chance of being delivered. The process for approval is entirely lacking in transparency so tax payers are unable to discern whether the criteria have been met and to what extent. I'd also like to see full availability of the abortive costs associated with schools which are approved at first stage but don't proceed, the full capital costs and the per pupil running costs as compared to other schools.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 09/09/2012 - 07:20

sarah - you're right that the process lacks transparency and in some cases (ie "evidence of demand" inflated by using "expressions of interest", or offering inducements for signatures) is dubious.

There's a growing industry comprising solicitors, consultants, financial advisers and so on all ready to advise groups about starting up free schools. It's in the interests of this lucrative business to support the idea heavily promoted by the Government and NSN (itself an organisation that depends of free schools being proposed) that free schools are the answer to the alleged "failure" of the English state system.

When money is to be made, truth goes out of the window.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 10/09/2012 - 09:42

There were 323 applications in the first wave of which.....24 went on to scheduled opening and maybe a few more went on a slower track. Hardly looks as if DfE are falling over themselves to approve any old Tom, Dick & Harry.

Sarah's picture
Mon, 10/09/2012 - 19:42

If they were able to allocate even more money to it and were able to overcome the site acquisition issues they would be approving a hell of a lot more. The fact that they have approved schools with very little parental support is evidence of poor application of the criteria given that parental demand is supposed to be number one priority.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Sat, 08/09/2012 - 20:22

Given that there is no other way to open schools, good people who want to open schools which will be of value in areas where they are needed are now using this route with the support of their LAs and in some cases with their influence and encouragement.

This is part of the picture now. These schools would have opened through other routes had other routes existed.

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 09/09/2012 - 07:12

Rebecca - you are correct in saying that the only option for local authorities to establish new schools where needed is to go down the academy or free school route. LAs are now no longer allowed by law to establish their own schools. They must, therefore, tout around for an academy chain willing to open a new school or hope that proposers will come forward to set up a free school.

No-one has yet said what an LA, faced with a demand for extra places, would do if no academy chain or free school proposers were willing to set up a school. This is more likely to happen in disadvantaged areas of the country than in prosperous ones.

The evidence shows that the majority of free schools established so far have not satisfied two of the alleged criteria: tackling underperformance or meeting a shortfall in places. Evidence about whether free schools help FSM pupils is still unclear and depends what is measured (see other thread).

It bodes ill for LAs in less attractive areas to get their much-needed schools if chains/proposers won't come forward.

Sarah's picture
Sun, 09/09/2012 - 18:44

Actually the law allows for a local authority to establish a new community school but only if it has already gone through a competition process to try to establish another category of school first. So if there is no free school proposer or academy school sponsor it has to run a competition where faith groups for example can propose a voluntary aided school. A community school is only allowed as an absolute last resort - and the Secretary of State can stop the process at any stage if an Academy sponsor becomes available. So much for communities being allowed to choose what sort of educational provision they get!

Ben Taylor's picture
Sat, 08/09/2012 - 21:00

Have you written to the LAs where they lack places which don't have free schools allocated? Want to join me in a petition for them? Can't say fairer than that for consensus can you?

agov's picture
Sun, 09/09/2012 - 09:44

Other than the fair system of using taxpayers money to fund required schools for the benefit of the community rather than looting community assets for the benefit of highly paid rip-off merchants.

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 10/09/2012 - 17:16

A significant number of parents in Hackney spoiled the consultation proposing a new secondary school in Hackney in the spring because only two choices were given - Academy or Free School - and they scrawled "community school" on the papers.

It was around this time that Rachel Wolf may have been economical with the truth when she gave interviews claiming that "thousands of parents who signed a petition in Hackney, asking a superb school in a disadvantaged area – Mossbourne – to set up a new Free School. It should open next year”. This turned out to be untrue and when I contacted Rachel Wolf several times to ask her to clarify, she declined.

Ben Taylor's picture
Mon, 10/09/2012 - 19:40

I actually agree that a genuine choice would retain an LA school on a consultation. So can we please expand the choice beyond the historical offer in many areas which is comprehensive only?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 10/09/2012 - 09:14


There are a range of reasons why free schools are set up. Each free school has its own story.

Off the top of my head, I can think of four free schools that were set up entirely from an idealistic motivation to help disadvantaged pupils.

School 21 in Newham, set up by Peter Hyman, Ed Fidoe and Oli de Botton was established by a group of teachers (not from Newham) who wanted to offer something better than was available locally and that really was targeted on trying to help the disadvantaged.

The Reach Academy Feltham is similar - founded by an entrepreneur and a teacher from outside the area. The area was selected because of its disadvantaged profile.

Yet another example is the Greenwich Free School - promoted by a former education expert and civil servant partnered with a group of teachers.

The London Academy of Excellence is another example of a primarily philanthropic motivation - set up by a consortium of independent schools.

Other free schools have a different back story. The Nishkam school in Birmingham was an initiative of the Sikh community who wanted a school in the Sikh tradition.

WLFS was a parent-led thing, founded by parents who were dissatisfied with the provision in their local area. There are, in fact, some very good schools close to WLFS, but most of them are Catholic or CofE, so maybe the impetus there came from non-religious parents who saw believers getting an excellent education but non-believers given only some pretty substandard options.

In all the above cases, the schools were only able to go ahead because local parents welcomed them.

Your conception of 'need' seems to be the rather limited one of an economist or bureaucrat, based on whether there are surplus places or a shortage. What's the use of surplus places in schools which parents would never want to send their kids?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 10/09/2012 - 13:10

Thank you for this relevant and interesting information Ricky.

I don't know if you are aware of the extent to which most substantial education initiatives have started with some very credible, able and experienced education experts either in key positions or supporting those in key positions and so have been very successful at the pilot stage. However these initiatives are often then rapidly rolled out by people in central government who don't understand that such people are inherent to the success seen but are not in plentiful supply and that a similar level improvement in the quality of services does not occur when the conclusions reached by those experienced and empowered people are replicated outside the context in which they were reached.

This was one of the issues I held Peter Williams to account for when he was reviewing primary maths education and I was delighted to see that he engaged with it properly and ensured that the MaST scheme for developing maths primary teaching specialists was conceived in a way which built rapidly in a planned and coherent way on the expertise which did exist.

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 10/09/2012 - 13:58

I think parental "need" was always a red-herring, designed to pander to the fears of parents already anxious as a result of the government's pumping out of propaganda intent on insinuating that standards were falling, schools were failing and academic rigour was in decline. It didn't matter that this was not evidence based, or that any evidence produced was misrepresented, taken out of context, discredited, dubious or just plain wrong.

Michael Gove was intent to imposing his ideology and furthering his political career, both of which rested on his ability to effect lightning quick change, impressing the cabinet and backbenchers, Murdoch and fooling the electorate that his reforms were “radical”. Whatever Cameron’s “Big Society” was supposed to be, it’s big talk and big concepts helped to create the illusion that the community and its parents and teachers could somehow fashion a new school. All of this was unfortunately crystallised in all its pugnacious and politically motivated form in WLFS and Toby Young, himself not just a parent concerned for the good of the community but a media junkie whose career was surely helped by the columns of press and endless television appearances his media mates were able to pull off for him? How many parents have that advantage? Not many and the vast majority of parents – especially the ones burdened with poverty, disadvantage and no friends in the media – won’t have the financial nor logistical wherewithal to liaise with the DfE, lawyers, planners, LAs, architects, providers. Very few of them got a job on the Sun on Sunday and a platform to engage in rabid rhetoric and attacks against critics in ways that the government must be very pleased about, as they couldn't risk doing so much of the dirty work themselves. Michael Gove slips up of course, with his denouncing of Trots and teachers. Odd that he is quick to point fingers at non existent bogeymen but slow to comment on the Ofqual/GCSE fiasco over the summer.

Luckily for Academy chains, Michael Gove and the NSN had to make it tougher for parents to jump though the hoops. The talk at the time was to make the application more “rigorous” (how Gove and his cronies love that word), so it became perhaps politically expedient to let service providers and chains take over. At that point, all the decision making, influence and power (however much of that they really had) was essentially wrested away from the middle-class parents with the dream of creating a new, excellent school.

Were these parents and organisers really thinking of the disadvantaged in their own communities? Perhaps – but it’s more likely than any philanthropic motive was second to ensuring that their own sort were given the benefits first and foremost. Philanthropy is a double edged sword. Giving is all very well, but there are always strings attached – witness the hostile take over and asset stripping of Downhills Primary by Harris Carpets.

Stephen Mayo's picture
Mon, 10/09/2012 - 15:54

I doubt there are many better examples of the points made in this article (and previous comments) than the new "free school", Becket Keys, in my hometown of Brentwood. Following a consultation as recently as 2009, it was agreed that due to surplus places within the town, one of our secondary schools should close and a vocational facility that would be utilised by the remaining schools would take its place.

Two years later a free school proposal emerged for the site that ignored the evidence and agreed plan. The vocational option has been shelved as a result and we still have a surplus places issue. The full evidence is available here:

Should it be successful, the free school will deny existing schools resource. Last month these schools all posted GCSE and A level results above the national average (GCSE 5 A*-C were between 87-91%). So no shortage of places and no underperformance issue. However a small section of the community initially "welcomed" the proposal and they now have their school. The potential cost of this for the wider community does not seem to have concerned them. Which seems odd given that it's full title is Becket Keys Church of England School.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 10/09/2012 - 17:02

According to the local paper, 127 pupils began in Y7 at the new Becket Keys free school last week.

In 2009, only 44 were enrolled in the old, failed secondary.

It would appear there really is a 'demand' - in the sense that the school is opening with a healthy size of initial cohort and parents really want to send their kids to this particular type of school.

There may well be 'surplus places' at other schools nearby. But parents should not be forced to use their children to fill surplus places in schools they do not like or trust. Parents have dropped an enormous hint about what kind of school they want.

Allan Beavis's picture
Mon, 10/09/2012 - 17:10

Stephen -

Well it seems that the needs of the wider community and the silent voices have been ignored or discouraged as the more vocal and sharp elbowed get what they want. This isn't "choice" - it's the school equivalent of top bankers manipulating the system to line their own pockets at the expense of the majority. Such free market practice is hardly the best model to follow, but Gove seems as intent on following this sort of disaster as he is in replicating the failed charter school model.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 08:12

Stephen - I know that this is probably familiar to you but it might not be so well-known by others, but the predecessor school, Sawyers Hall College, which was closed as part of Brentwood's reorganisation programme, had been judged satisfactory by Ofsted in 2007, when it was taken out of special measures, and again in 2010. In 2011, Ofsted judged the the school's business and economics teaching to be outstanding which is why the head believed there was sufficient talent among his staff to be employed in a possible University Technical College (UTC) on the site.

According to the local paper (link below), the decision to close Sawyer's Hall was made in 2008. That would explain the low enrolment figures in 2009 - few parents would want to enrol their child in a school which would be closing while the child was attending.

Ofsted reports can be downloaded here. These will be relevant to those who claim the predecessor school had "failed" (with no links to evidence).

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 10/09/2012 - 17:11

So the local schools have lost 127 x approximately £4000 per student which is approximately half a million pounds a year of their funding so far with more to go on top of their depleted revenue from the falling roll.

Would you like to explain to me what happens to schools when they are suddenly leaching finances like this Ricky and why you feel it's a good idea to inflict this on schools?

Could you also explain why it's a good idea to get rid of the vocational facility?

Are we in another situation where children are being bribed to go to the free school by receiving a ludicrous level of per child funding and teacher allocation?

Will Michael Gove use the fact that some parents choose to send their children to schools where they will receive more attention due to ludicrous per child funding levels as proof that crippling schools and abolishing vocational education is a good idea?

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 10/09/2012 - 18:01

Becket Keys - isn't that the one where a lead proposer, a head of a primary school, became head of Becket Keys, a secondary school, despite never having taught in a secondary school, never mind be in the senior management in one? And wasn't his chosen deputy also a primary head? And there salaries - weren't they quite a jump from the average primary head's wage?

Apparently, the local paper said 127 pupils started. Odd, then, that a google search doesn't seem to find it. One would expect it to be at the top of searches.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Mon, 10/09/2012 - 19:07

Are there any other 3 stream 11-18 state schools in England? It's ludicrously hard to provide appropriate provision for 14-16 with three streams but providing a sixth form has proven to be impossible for all other schools of this size as far as I know. The cost is prohibitive and the quality of teaching often low as schools struggle to provide specialists with regular experience. Why is it thought to be sensible in this case?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 10/09/2012 - 22:23

Sorry, it was 123.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 10/09/2012 - 22:30

What I don't understand is why you condemn free schools for doing what all existing schools are already doing.

How come when free schools attract more pupils, they are said to be being predatory, but when LA schools do the same, you praise them for being successful?

The predecessor school on this site failed to attract pupils, whose parents chose to apply to other schools in the town. As a result, the LA chose to close the school. Why weren't you up in arms about all the other schools pulling away funding from that school?

I don't see that free schools change the picture one jot. Schools that do attract pupils prosper; those that don't close. That was true under the LA dominated system just as much as now.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Mon, 10/09/2012 - 22:32

120 is four forms of entry, not three.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 06:44

Of course it is, sorry, kid climbing on my head. Does anyone know of a four stream entry 11-18 state school in England? About 8 stream entry is usually needed for a 6th form. 6 stream would be about the lowest I know of and that's a push.

Stephen Mayo's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 08:21

Ricky, I would agree with your point about the predecessor school if the clear evidence did not contradict it in the case of Brentwood. I posted the link to the 2009 consultation report to demonstrate that the LA in conjunction with all existing schools, and the parents of the children in that school, reviewed the situation and formed a plan to address it. The whole community was then consulted. Neighbouring school, Shenfield High, have spent three years doing a staged integration of Sawyers Hall College students and all existing schools were involved in formulating the vocational plan.

The free school changes the picture because where the LA and existing schools had addressed the issue of surplus places we are now back to square one. Ultimately, we know therefore that one of our schools (possibly even the free school) will face the same pressure in time and may also be forced to close. We all understand the "survival of the fittest" argument but, as free schools are given the advantage of preferential initial funding, "competition" is clearly skewed. Crucially the outcome is not just one that affects shareholders, it affects children as the case in Brentwood has already demonstrated.

Stephen Mayo's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 08:25

Rebecca, I would be very interested to know if there are any existing guidelines/restrictions on setting up a 6th form. Becket Keys is currently stating that it "intends" to have one but it would be instructive to know if there intake allows this. Their PAN is actually 150.

If you have anything you could share I would be grateful if you could contact

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 08:51

I don't have any guidance Stephen, it's just common sense and experience.

Re: the common sense - just think through the kind of range of courses a 6th form has to offer to tempt students to go there. It's substantial. So you need a lot of students to populate all those courses with viable class sizes. The quality of teaching suffers if teachers don't regularly teach a lot of students - especially if they don't teach a signficant number of students who attain high grades. Costs go through the roof if classes are very small. The best way to research this would be to look at the numbers in each year in 6th forms and see the numbers levels at which 6th forms are being shut.

Re: the experience. Here in Cumbria we try harder than in most areas to keep our 6th forms open in rural areas, especially where travelling to the nearest alternative school with a 6th form is difficult in winter so children have to board if their school does not have a 6th form. This means that the costs of shutting a 6th form are huge. But even in the most extreme geographical situations they seem to collapse at about 4 stream entry despite the county's commitment to the substantial extra funding which has to be spent on those children anyway whatever their provision. For a four stream entry school I can only think that the dynamics could be different if you had a 4 stream entry grammar school which had a 6th form with a highly academic provision only which most of those students were accessing. Then it might just about work. But a 6th form with an intake of 120 is a marginal 6th form in my experience.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 09:04

"How come when free schools attract more pupils, they are said to be being predatory, but when LA schools do the same, you praise them for being successful?"

Intakes at LA schools are usually capped. This is done for two reasons, the main one of which is that the cap usually relates to the capacity of the school - if it is exceeded substantial investment will be needed to build new classrooms, but the effect of sudden and rapid movements of children on the budgets of other schools are also a factor. The purpose of the cap is to try to ensure that if major costs are going to be incurred and changes made they are planned for and so can be managed to minimise excess spend.

If a school ignores its cap and expands anyway despite the consequences to other schools that's considered to be predatory behaviour. It doesn't happen very often because the people responsible for it have to live with seeing the consequences of what they've done. It's not much fun managing overseeing a small improvement in standards at your own school if you know that's been achieved by poaching the best families from the next school and you know that the consequences of you doing that is a collapse in budgets, parental confidence and standards at the next school with associated redundancies of good staff, loss of provision for children and so on. It's not so bad if that school is heading for a planned closure but what if it's not and there's nowhere else for the kids left there to go?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 09:10


Satisfactory if the regulatory term which means no cause for concern. It can actually mean excellent but just not easy to inspect. You and I and people who actually work in education know that.

But there's not point in trying to tell Ricky because he's lost in Gove's world of media spin where the purpose of regulation is to create tools to bully and politically manipulate schools and present the image that Gove is powerful and effective. He doesn't give a stuff about any of the standards of best practice all the other regulators have to stick to so that they operate to improve the quality of provision in the sectors they regulate. No cause for concern = cause for concern. That seems to be what Ricky is determined to believe. Sick, twisted and deeply disturbing it may be but Gove honestly believes that Ofsted is there to serve him, not for education, and it seems it does.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 09:11


Do you think the perception of a need for a vocational centre has been to any extent modified by the reduction in 'GCSE equivalents' from 3,000 to a little over 100?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 09:14

What are you on about Ricky? Do you know what a vocational centre is?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 13:19


I assumed from the context that it was one of these:

... an interpretation also suggested by its description as 'a vocational learning centre' in the Essex consultation Stephen links to.

Am I wrong? What do you think it is.... a careers library?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 13:37

What I really mean is, Ricky, what do you mean by this comment?

"Do you think the perception of a need for a vocational centre has been to any extent modified by the reduction in ‘GCSE equivalents’ from 3,000 to a little over 100?"

My baseline assumption would be that the reason it was decided to provide a vocational centre was that that there wasn't such a facility locally and it was needed.

All the schools I've worked in have offered some students access to vocational courses in the nearby colleges as part of their curriculum (typically 1 day per week). Some have also had outdoor ed. based provisions for some students in their field centres. These facilities have been used to engage and motivate students who are struggling to enjoy and thrive on a purely academic curriculum and to equip these children with skills for work.

So if I hear that an area was looking to create such a facility I would assume it's because one does not exist, in which case it would be very much needed and of great value to the education of local students. It's very common, Ricky, that a disengaged and troublesome lad or lass will thrive on a vocation course and will then settle down in the rest of his classes. Everyone wins.

But of course I don't know the details of this particular case.

You've asserted another suggestion so I'm interested to know what you think and why you think it but I can't follow it. Please can you explain? Is it something to do with Wolf? I would very strongly doubt such a plan would have anything to do with Wolf. I would assume it's been driving by people in the real world responding to the real needs of kids. Do you have any grounds for thinking the plan for a vocational centre did not arise in this way?

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 13:55

Nope - the vision of the vocational learning centre was clearly already well established in the 2009 consultation. So you're just drivelling bovine excrement aren't you Ricky?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 15:23

So you’re just drivelling bovine excrement aren’t you Ricky?

Nope. I'm afraid it is you who's guilty of that. Once again you display your customary tendency to get completely the wrong end of the stick. At least you half acknowledge your reading comprehension difficulty ("I can’t follow it. Please can you explain? "), but then without waiting for any guidance, you go on the rude rampage (also customary).

As any imbecile could work out, my question was not concerned with what prompted people to plan a vocational centre, but whether - post-Wolf - the perceived need for one was as great as pre-Wolf.

This was a genuine question to which I (and I'm certain you) do not know the answer.

On the one hand, the proportion of vocational subjects taken at KS4 in mainstream schools appears to be declining. On the other hand, the RPA might require more facilities of this sort, depending on whether places like this can meet the need.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 09:22

Stephen – I know you're already aware of this but I'll spell it out for those who ignore your evidence: the Council consultation (link below) re the closure of the predecessor school, Sawyers Hall, said there was a continuing decline in the number of pupils requiring secondary education in Brentwood and by 2016 there would be one secondary school too many. It was estimated there would be under 700 pupils requiring secondary education in Brentwood by 2020.

It seems madness, then, that a new secondary school, Becket Keys C of E, was allowed to open in an area where the number of secondary school pupils was declining. This threatens the existence of established secondary schools since it is unlikely that the Secretary of State would close a free school. Any victim of falling rolls would be another school.

The Council’s preferred options for the site were (a) development of a community campus as a vocational centre for young people and for community learning, or (b) an enlarged Shenfield High School.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 10:37

And here's the missing link to the "local paper" cited above which at first was supposed to have said 127 pupils started at Becket Keys then this was changed to 123 but according to the "local paper" (cited without a link) it's "about 123" who have now started at the school which only had its funding agreement signed off on August 31, five days before the school was supposed to open.

According to Edubase, the DfE's portal re schools, Becket Keys has a capacity of 1050 which, it is claimed, will make it the largest secondary free school. Assuming the 123 intake figure is correct and remains constant until the school's seven years are full, then that makes 861 pupils. Even if the intake rises to the planned 130 a year, then that makes only 910 which is 140 short of full capacity.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 13:36

Wrong link, Janet. I've found it again now:

Assuming the 123 intake figure is correct and remains constant until the school’s seven years are full, then that makes 861 pupils. Even if the intake rises to the planned 130 a year, then that makes only 910 which is 140 short of full capacity.

So what? And why do make these assumptions anyway? The school can set whatever PAN it chooses. If, in three years time, it's confident it can attract 150 or even 160 a year, it could increase its admissions. Its capacity is merely an indicative figure based on space constraints.

Interestingly, the Essex consultation linked above by Stephen Mayo shows that all other surviving secondaries were operating ABOVE capacity in 2009 and the now-defunct Sawyers Hall was the only school in the area with surplus places.

Maybe the free school can heap ease the overcrowding.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 13:52

The report shows that there were three popular and currently full schools. They have PANs of 260, 248 and 272 which gives a total capacity of 780.

The consultation was done in 2009 so the then year 4 (of which there were 730) would be the current year 7, so they would be easily accommodated within the three popular existing schools.

There is no overcrowding Ricky. You made that up. Why did you do that?

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 14:34

You made that up. Why did you do that?

September 2009

SHENFIELD : Total on roll: 1545 Capacity: 1476

StMARTINS: Total on roll: 1730 Capacity: 1678

BCHS: Total on roll: 1443 Capacity: 1402

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 15:00

But that was 2009 so it's irrelevant.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 15:33

Why irrelevant?

By 2011 St Martin's was up 1786 and Shenfield down just one to 1544, though BCHS was back within capacity.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 16:02

Have you got a link for that Ricky?

I'm also curious to know what the intakes were at these three schools this year if you've got that too.

Does it not strike you that these three schools clearly have substantially larger capacities than the stated targets?

I don't know if you're aware that if you've got classes of 32 instead of 30 in year 9 it does't actually mean that you can only fit 28 instead of 30 in a class in year 7. It means you can fit 30 and probably fit 32 if necessary.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 16:53

Oh yes and of course these larger numbers were planned when the decisions were made about the closure of the old school. They wouldn't have been planned if they couldn't have been managed Ricky.

Ricky-Tarr's picture
Wed, 12/09/2012 - 11:09

I’m also curious to know what the intakes were at these three schools this year if you’ve got that too.

Brentwood Schools Y7 Intakes 2011 & 2012

Anglo-European School - 210 (2011); 210 (2012) Unchanged.

St Martin's - 272 (2011); 272 (2012) Unchanged

Brentwood Ursuline Convent (Catholic) - 166 (2011); 166 (2012) Unchanged

BCHS - 239 (2011); 221 (2012) - DOWN 18

Shenfield High - 201 (2011) 194 (2012) DOWN 7

Total drop in neighbouring schools that might be attributable to the free school: 25

Total surplus capacity (PANs minus actual admissions) across all previously existing Brentwood schools: 56

Number enrolled in the free school: 123

So, if the free school hadn't opened, 67 children would not have been found places. Another triumph for LA planners!

(source: )

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 12/09/2012 - 12:59

123 children at the free school
First of all Shenfield has clearly dropped it's PAN for pragmatics reasons to assist planning - because it knows the children won't be there. It clearly could easily take 248 pupils (and has taken up to 258), so that's 54 children accounted for (+ 10 extra at at push).

BCHS has 22 obvious places (+ 7 extra at a push using the same logic)

Then you've got +4 places at a push at St. Martins

25 students came from other schools

So that's 101 + 21 at a push accounted for.

So at first glance it looks like there's a problem but it's pretty easy what's caused the problem and how it would have disappeared if the free school had not been opened.

The intake of the four schools at the heart of this was 272 + 221 + 194 + 123 = 810
But the primary cohort was only 737, so overall 73 children have come in from schools outside the area. It could be, for example, that 25 of those have gone to the free school and 48 have gone to the other popular local schools, filling up the slack capacity which became available but for which local children would have had priority had they needed it.

So altogether you've got 76 obvious spare places (+21 at a push) + 73 children coming in from outside the area. So that's 149 obvious spare places (+21 at a push).

Or were huge estates built and populated in the three intervening years? You'd need around 30 year 7 students moving in to start to see any significant crowding. That scales up to around 18x30 = 540 children. So if you've had a sudden local population increase of around 2000 between 2009 and 2012 then that would change the picture. To know if that has happened or not you'd need to look at the year 6 leavers numbers for the primaries.

Rebecca Hanson's picture
Wed, 12/09/2012 - 16:39

Of course had their been a shortage the LA could rapidly have consulted the schools on adding an extra stream to one of them, which would have been far easier to do that building a new school.

Adrian Elliott's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 10:54

'Becket Keys – isn’t that the one where a lead proposer, a head of a primary school, became head of Becket Keys, a secondary school, despite never having taught in a secondary school, never mind be in the senior management in one? '

Is that actually true Janet? I thought I had lost the capacity to be amazed at the mess this government's policies are leading us into but that is really breathtaking.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 11/09/2012 - 11:22

Adrian - yes. The head of Becket Keys, was a lead proposer of the secondary school when he was head of a primary school. He's had no experience of secondary education.

Apparently, the first round of recruitment for the head failed to find someone who was "outstanding".

NB the proposed intake (given as 150 in one of the links above) has been reduced to 130. This means that the school can't hope ever to fill its 1050 places.


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