Government claims for free schools are simply false

Henry Stewart's picture
The government has repeatedly claimed that free schools "outperform maintained schools" (eg, Liz Truss). The Observer today reports that shadow education minister Baroness Jones has accused ministers of misleading parliament in making this claim.

Gove and his colleagues have form here, having regularly made claims for academies that simply don't stand up to inspection of the data. At least there, though, they were using actual results. Virtually no free schools has had any exam results to compare to other schools.

Is 75% higher than 79%?

The evidence used to back the claim is that 75% of the 24 free schools so far inspected by Ofsted were rated Good or Outstanding. However 79% of all state schools are currently rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted.

The DfE responds that it was using a comparison based on inspections under the new "tougher" framework and the free schools 75% should be compared to the 63% of maintained schools that have been rated Good or Outstanding under this new regime. When Toby Young made this claim in a Telegraph blog, it was very effectively rubbished in the comments posted in response.

DfE is comparing all free schools to below average maintained schools

Those maintained schools that were inspected in the last year are not a representative sample. schoolswot pointed out (quoting the 2011 Education Bill) that "schools that were previously judged to be outstanding will not be subject to routine inspection unless concerns are raised about their performance". So most outstanding maintained schools would simply not have been inspected (unless their data indicated a drop in performance).

rsl_uk repeated the point that Ofsted has been (rightly) focused on schools that were less than Good at the last inspection.  As they put it: "You are therefore using data to compare free schools against schools which OFSTED have deliberately selected as being below average."

They also challenged the claim of a tougher framework. Apparently 48% of schools inspected in 2013 have seen their grading rise, and only 11% have seen it fall - indicating its actually an easier regime.

Gove's Argument: a mis-use of the Data (again)

So the government's argument seems to be:

  • Yes, the proportion of free schools rated Good or Outstanding is lower than for maintained schools

  • But if you compare all free schools to a sample of the less-well performing maintained schools, they do okay

Labour is right to challenge the government on this nonsense. Once again Gove and his colleagues are guilty of mis-use of data and making false or untrue claims. (See this post by Janet Downs for 8 more examples of Gove untruths).

Postscript: Free School Primaries Underperform

Since posting this, @janey23HT has pointed out that there are a few results for primary schools. Although the sample is small (9 free schools, 219 pupils), these clearly underperform: (download, Table 5):

  • 75% achieved level 4 in Maths, against 86% for all state-funded primaries

  • 81% made expected progress in Reading, against 89% for all state-funded primaries

  • 84% made expected progress in Writing, against 92% for all state-funded primaries

  • 72% made expected progress in Maths, against 89% for all state funded primaries

It is hard to spot the overperformance here.


I'd love to hear from schoolswot and rsl_uk (great responses to Toby's blog). If you read this, do email at or tweet us at @localschools_uk

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