Public backs free schools, says NSN. But will news of £1m spent on unopened free schools reduce this alleged (and contradicted) support?

Janet Downs's picture
“An Opinium survey published in October 2013 showed that twice as many people were in favour of Free Schools than against them.”

New Schools Network December 2013

This is true – but only if you disregard the 22% who had no opinion and the 12% who didn’t know whether free schools were a good or bad idea. So, if you ignore 34% of the survey, then more than twice (44%) approved* of free schools rather than disapproved (23%) of them. However, a YouGov poll in late October 2013 showed support for free schools had fallen to 27% while opposition had grown to 47% in just one month.

The Opinium survey revealed other opinions about free schools which NSN didn’t publish. The Government’s cheerleader for free schools didn’t say that 60% of respondents were concerned about free schools being able to hire teachers without Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). 30% weren’t concerned and 10% didn’t know.

The 60% who worried about unqualified teachers would, therefore, be likely to support the recently-announced Headteachers’ Roundtable Policy Proposal that all teachers should gain QTS. The Roundtable recommends high-quality training leading eventually to a Professional Qualification with Masters Degree Equivalent.

The Opinium survey also asked about ongoing support for free schools. 23% thought the free school policy should continue unchanged. 27% said free schools should only be allowed if they met a shortfall and teachers were qualified. 12% thought no more should open but support should continue for those already established. 20% thought the policy should end and LAs should take control of existing ones. 17% didn’t know.

This is hardly a ringing endorsement for a government flagship policy.

The Opinium survey was done in October 2013 when concerns were being raised about Al-Madinah but before the Kings Science Academy scandal broke. Since then free schools have had mixed publicity: Discovery New School has closed; Ofsted has found some are outstanding but others, including high-profile ones like Bedford Free School and Greenwich Free School, are less than good; and the Education Funding Agency has published more critical reports about academy trusts running free schools.

And yesterday we heard that £1m had been spent on free schools withdrawn during the pre-opening stage in 2011-2013. Already in 2014 another proposal, the Phoenix Free School, has been withdrawn at pre-opening because it didn’t reach the high bar set by the Department for Education (DfE). This raises the question why it was allowed to go ahead in the first place.

Perhaps if the Opinium survey were repeated today it would reveal a less comforting result for the DfE.

*Those who approved of free schools either thought the policy was “very good” or “quite good”. Those who disapproved either thought the policy was “quite bad” or “very bad”.
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Francis Gilbert's picture
Thu, 08/05/2014 - 18:26

I think even the Right have major reservations about free schools.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 09/05/2014 - 08:36

The Public Accounts Committee, which comprises 8 Tories, has just produced a critical report into free schools. PAC, among other things, is concerned about escalating capital costs and warned the arrangements for auditing weren't yet effective.

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