Commenting on the first “Outstanding” Ofsted* verdict
for a free school, Education Secretary Michael Gove
“Ark Conway has demonstrated how a brilliant school, with a culture of high expectations, great leadership and inspiring teachers can be truly excellent across the board within two years.”
Ofsted judged Ark Conway, a free primary school in Hammersmith and Fulham run by the Ark chain, to be Outstanding on all four counts. It has just two classes: Early Years Foundation Stage and Year 1. The proportion of pupils claiming free school meals (FSM)* was 13.3% in 2012 although Ofsted says the proportion is now “broadly average”.
In 2012, the national average for FSM uptake at primary level was 19.3%
- in Hammersmith and Fulham it was 39.7%
. The proportion of FSM pupils at the four primary schools nearest to Ark Conway is as follows:
Wormholt Park Primary School 48.2%
Pope John RC School 29.7%
East Acton Primary School 46.7%
Canberra Primary School 60.9%.
The low proportion of FSM pupils at Ark Conway show it is not serving as many disadvantaged pupils as other local schools.
In September 2011 when the first free schools opened Lord Hill
said, “Half the schools (12 schools) are located in the 30% most deprived communities.” Ark Conway would have been one of these.
This raises the question whether free schools established in disadvantaged areas are admitting the full range of local children or are becoming islands of advantage is a sea of disadvantage. Canary Wharf College in Tower Hamlets, for example, had so few FSM pupils in 2012 that the figure was suppressed. But the proportion of FSM primary pupils in the borough was 46.4%
. However, it would be unfair to tar all free schools in disadvantaged areas with the same brush. The proportion of FSM pupils at the West London Free School
, for example, is only slightly less than the local average for secondary pupils in Hammersmith and Fulham although there are questions about whether the attainment level of the intake is skewed towards high-ability pupils.
But Michael Gove didn’t comment on the low number of FSM pupils at Ark Conway. He used the occasion to say:
“Free Schools, set up by dedicated groups of individuals and organisations, are raising standards and giving parents a real choice of good local schools.”
But a fourth free school, Nishkam Primary School
, has been judged “Requires improvement” and Ofsted has labeled the Discovery New School
as “Inadequate”. It’s misleading, then, to make a blanket statement that free schools are “raising standards”.
Ofsted monitoring visits show that three free schools previously judged to require improvement have been taking steps to address concerns. The King’s Science Academy
has made “some improvements” and has “begun to take effective action”. Sandbach School
has set up a “comprehensive system” for checking teaching quality and introduced a new marking policy although this was not being used consistently. Batley Grammar School
was receiving “very good support” from the local authority which is “funding a secondary school improvement partner”.
So, if Batley Grammar School ever becomes “Good”, even “Outstanding’, remember it was given help by its LA,
Disclaimer: Citing Ofsted judgements does not imply endorsement.
*FSM figures for individual schools are from School Performance Tables 2012 downloadable here