Another myth – DfE free school soundbite contradicted by Local Government Association

Janet Downs's picture
Route 39, a free school in the West Country, has been set up despite there being a surplus of places in the area. The need for the school was questioned when it was proposed but it has nevertheless opened in a redundant primary school closed two years ago because there weren’t enough pupils. The presence of Route 39 has already had a negative impact on nearby Holsworthy Community College.

The Department for Education (DfE) told the BBC the vast majority of mainstream* free schools were in areas with the greatest pressure on places.

But the Local Government Association (LGA) disputes this. It said:

“Most of the free schools opening this year [2013] are in areas under pressure, but not necessarily those under the most pressure. And five are in areas forecast to have surplus primary places within two years.”

The LGA wants a ban on setting up free schools in areas where there’s already a surplus.

Only a small number of second-wave free schools – those opened in 2012 – were set up in areas identified by the New Schools Network as having the greatest need. New primary free schools were provided in only four of the twenty primary shortage hotspots (5 primaries in total) and extra secondary places (three schools in total) appeared in just three of the twenty LAs with the greatest pressure. And there were some, such as Beccles Free School, which were opened in areas with surplus places.

It appears, then, that the DfE is being economical with the truth. It claims the majority of all mainstream free schools are in areas where there’s the greatest demand for extra places. But the LGA says the free schools opening this month were NOT in areas where demand was greatest.

The Government’s free school programme, together with its academies programme, is making it impossible for local authorities to manage the supply of school places. If demand for school places in areas with surplus places continues to fall then LAs can’t close free schools or academies – that responsibility rests with the Secretary of State. LAs would have to consider closing a maintained school to deal with oversupply even if the school facing the axe is popular and judged Good or better.

Allowing free schools to open in areas where there’s a surplus is irresponsible and a careless use of taxpayers’ money.

This is a companion piece to the thread 10 Myths Promoted by the Department for Education downloadable here.

*Mainstream schools are state primary, secondary or all-through schools. They do not include alternative provision or schools catering for pupils aged 16+ only.

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