New Schools Network warned by Charities Commission about the need to be impartial - again.

Janet Downs's picture
The New Schools Network (NSN), the taxpayer-funded charity given the job of promoting free schools, has been warned by the Charities Commission about appearing to support a particular political party.

An article, now removed, was published in the news section of NSN’s website with the title Tories are fighting for the people Labour has abandoned. It was in fact a copy of a Telegraph comment piece but NSN didn’t make that clear. The Commission said* that in reproducing the partisan Telegraph article without stating its origin “it does appear that the charity is expressing support for the Conservative party generally.”

Charities can express views about policies “directly linked” to the charity’s “charitable objects”. In the case of the New Schools Network, whose present director Natalie Evans was once Deputy Director at the Conservative Research Department, these are the “establishment and support of Free Schools”. As a charity, NSN is not allowed to lobby on behalf of a political party.

This is not the first time NSN has been warned. The Charity Commission received a complaint from Lisa Nandy MP in 2010 about NSN’s impartiality given its close links to Michael Gove and the Conservative Party. Its first director was Rachel Wolf who had been Gove’s education policy advisor. Its director of development, Diana Berry, was head of fundraising at Conservative Campaign HQ from 2004-2008 and Tory donor, Theodore Agnew, was one of the charity’s trustees. At the time the Commission said it had been “reassured” that NSN had been “acting appropriately” but nevertheless felt it was required to “press home the importance of remaining independent”.

“Remaining independent” hasn’t appeared to stop the NSN from publishing an article in favour of the Conservatives.

*email to author from Charities Commission 24 July 2014
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Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 11/08/2014 - 17:44

Update: Natalie Evans, director of New Schools Network. 'an independent educational charity', has been made a working peer.

David Barry's picture
Wed, 01/04/2015 - 16:37

While I was considering what to write next about Cuckoo Hall , or Whitehall Park School, an email popped in to my in box from the New Schools Network. Dated 1 April, it is clearly no joke, but the important thing is it arrives a day after Purdah started. A time when charities must take even more care than usual NOT to carry out activities that might be construed as party political.

It is entitled:

"Free school applicant newsletter"

Its first two paragraphs are:-

"Applying to open a free school

Over 400 free schools have now opened, or been approved to open since 2010.

NSN’s latest briefing highlights the positive impact free schools are having across the country. It sets out key data and statistics as well as tackling a number of free school myths."

So I had a look at the briefing - its on this link here:-

Now having skim read it, and seen a number of things that seem to me to be rather crass and misleading propaganda I am left wondering as to where this fits with a Charities obligation to be none party political ESPECIALLY DURING AN ELECTION CAMPAIGN.

I have in mind guidance such as this

from the charities commission....

Thoughts anyone? (but especially Janet!)

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 02/04/2015 - 16:02

Thanks, David. I've had a look at the document. It very carefully avoids mentioning the Government or the Conservatives. However, there are some 'facts' which are rather misleading. I shall write about them shortly.

Brian's picture
Thu, 02/04/2015 - 17:21

I'll be interested in your analysis of this document Janet. I've only glanced at it but I'm surprised (no I'm not) about the way statistics have been presented. Like pretending that the % of free schools opened in 2011 and 2012 and judged as outstanding can be compared with the % of other schools judged to be outstanding. I couldn't find out exactly how many free schools were inspected, but I'm guessing about eighty.mthe number of 'other ' schools ....? I wonder what stage in national curriculum maths this could be presented as a problem and pupils asked to 'Explain why the conclusions implied in this data analysis have no statistical validity.'

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