A third of free schools inspected by Ofsted “require improvement”

Janet Downs's picture
Free schools were supposed to be the shock troops that would smash complacency and set such a high example that they would raise standards in other schools. According to the Prime Minister,

“Free schools don’t just give parents who are frustrated with their local schools a new chance of a better education. They also encourage existing schools in the area to compete and raise their game.” (Speech, September 2011).

“Already free schools – fully independent schools within the state sector, launched by this Government, funded by taxpayers and set up by parents and teachers, charities and entrepreneurs – are revolutionising education…I know free schools work. I have seen for myself – and what’s happening is fantastic…I want them to be the shock troops of innovation in our education system. They are going to smash through complacency…” (Telegraph, November 2011)

But the Independent reports that Ofsted has found three of the nine free schools inspected so far “require improvement”. Two of these were existing schools: Batley Grammar School, an independent school where one parent said it was like “winning the lottery” when he discovered he no longer had to pay fees, and Sandbach School in Cheshire. The third was King’s Science Academy in Bradford which David Cameron described as “innovative and inspiring” during a by-election campaign visit. Michael Gove described the head as “outstanding”. But Ofsted found the academy “requires improvement” on all four counts including leadership.

On 13 July 2012, the DfE said:

“Free schools are driving up standards across the country. Now more and more groups are taking advantage of the freedoms we’ve offered to create wonderful new schools”

But the press release was updated ten days ago. Is the DfE trying to rewrite history? Did the original press pour effusive praise over any of the above three schools? If so, has the school been removed to avoid embarrassment?

It’s already been shown that academy conversion is not a sure-fire way to improvement. Now it appears that the much-vaunted free schools aren’t either.

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