What about the free schools judged to be good? And why is the DfE updating press releases published some time ago?

Janet Downs's picture
For the sake of balance I tried to track down the six free schools judged to be "good". I found five of them - if anyone knows the name of the sixth please let me know. Brief details of the five are:

Aldborough E-Act. Good. Has surplus places. Ofsted said pupils will be allocated to the school when their local schools were full (shortfall of local places expected). Consequently, some pupils travel considerable distance to attend the school. Attendance rates need to be improved. Number of FSM pupils in line with national average.

Bristol Free School. Good with outstanding features. Glowing report. Oversubscribed. Number of FSM pupils below average. Ofsted said temporary nature of the site restricts quality of learning eg in D&T. The aim of the parents' group behind the school to avoid their secondary age children from being dispersed around Bristol has been achieved.

Etz Chaim Jewish Primary. Good with outstanding features. Only has 76 pupils age 3-6. High turnover of staff. No FSM pupils.

Woodpecker Hall Primary Academy. Good with outstanding features. Age range of pupils currently nursery - Year 1. Pupils make excellent progress. Number of FSM pupils below average. However, small group of parents/carers had expressed concerns on Parent View about the management of the school. This was contradicted by a small, randomly chosen group of parents who met inspectors. (Parent View: 51 out of 120 parents responded. 29% said they wouldn't recommend the school. 27% strongly disagreed with the statement that the school was well led. Same proportion said the school didn't respond well to any concerns.)

Langley Hall Primary Academy. Good. Positive climate, bright and attractive. Number of FSM pupils below average. Breakfast and after-school meals were welcomed by parents but Ofsted concerned that these didn't ensure pupils had a consistently healthy and well-balanced diet. (50 out of 182 parents responded to Parent View - overwhelmingly positive about the school.)

The above inspections raise questions about Parent View - how representative are the results? It's possible that a group of parents could act collectively to post either positive or negative comments. And parents without access to computers are unable to comment. It was unwise of Ofsted to drop the system of giving questionnaires to all parents.

Free schools were supposed to be set up to meet parental demand. However, Ofsted reported that one of the above still had surplus places. And it’s surprising that one of these “flagship” schools should be having trouble with attendance.

Michael Gove said in July 2010 that the free school policy “follows the example of the successful Charter School movement in the US. The lives of disadvantaged children have been transformed by Charter Schools set up by teachers in deprived areas.”

So, how many disadvantaged pupils attend the free schools inspected so far? Nine were inspected although I could only find inspection reports for eight. Of those eight only one, King’s Science Academy, had a proportion of FSM pupils above the national average. One, Aldborough E-Act, had a proportion in line with national average. Three of the eight had a proportion less than the national average, and two (Batley Grammar and Sandbach School) had a proportion “well-below” the national average. One small free school had no FSM pupils.

The press release containing the Gove quote was updated on 28 February 2013. This is the second DfE press release that I have discovered has recently been updated. The other one contained the Prime Minister’s fulsome praise of free schools. But these press releases have been altered just as described in Orwell’s 1984:

"Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct… All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary."

Perhaps I’d better start printing DfE press releases

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