How losing Inadequate free schools lowers the proportion of those deemed failing.

Janet Downs's picture
The Government and the taxpayer-funded charity which promotes free schools, the New Schools Network, like to boast how many more free schools are outstanding than local authority maintained schools. This is despite the number of inspected free schools being too small to come to any conclusion.

However, if the Government and NSN want to use small samples to ‘prove’ the superiority of one type of school over another, then they should also publicise the proportion of free schools judged Inadequate. Provisional Ofsted figures* released 16 September 2014 show that 3% of all schools were judged Inadequate at their last inspection. These figures include schools judged under the old criteria as well as those judged under the revised ones. All free schools have been judged under the new criteria but the Ofsted data doesn’t differentiate between old and new criteria in its ‘last inspection’ figures.

Judged against the ‘last inspection’ figures, how well did free schools do? Ofsted said:

‘By 30 June 2014, Ofsted had conducted 70 inspections of free schools. Sixteen of these were judged outstanding, 31 good, 19 judged as ‘requires improvement’ and four were judged inadequate.’

Four inadequate schools out of 70 is 5% - higher than the 3% of all schools.

But there’s something odd about Ofsted’s figures. There were 71 mainstream free schools inspected up to June 2014. One inspection judgement is missing: the Discovery Free School, judged Inadequate, has closed and isn’t included. If it was included, then the proportion of Inadequate free schools would rise to 7%.

If the trend in removing closed Inadequate free schools from the data continues, this would reduce the proportion of failing free schools. Hartsbrook E-Act Free School, judged Inadequate, has technically closed – it’s been given a new name, Brook House Primary School, and a new reference number. According to Edubase, Brook House is not in special measures unlike its predecessor school. If the former Harstbrook E-Act is removed from Ofsted data at a later date, then the proportion of Inadequate free schools would fall to 4%.

Of course, this nit-picking reveals the stupidity of coming to a conclusion based on a small sample – one inadequate or one outstanding judgement can have a disproportionate effect on percentages. But the removal of closed Inadequate free schools from official data could lead to some future misrepresentation.

*Provisional data downloadable here.
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John's picture
Sun, 21/09/2014 - 12:34

Hi Janet,
I think pointing out that closed schools are not in the count is a good point
However the comparison to 3% is invalid surely?

Janet Downs's picture
Sun, 21/09/2014 - 12:41

John - you're right that comparing the proportion of inadequate a tiny sub-group of schools (ie free schools) with the proportion of inadequate schools among ALL schools is invalid. I make this point in my final paragraph. But the Government and NSN constantly use the proportion of outstanding free schools to pillory LA maintained schools despite the number of free schools being too small to come to any conclusion.

Brian's picture
Sun, 21/09/2014 - 19:03

Also remember the DfEs view of swift action in dealing with failing schools. In response to an FoI is submitted they replied that failing free schools are dealt with much more swiftly than LAs deal with failing schools. Their example was the closure of Al Madinah in Derby. Presumably LAs could claim both swift response and a rapidly reducing proportion of failing schools if they had the power and the will to simply close a failing school. Supporting a school through special measures requires more time and skill than simply shutting it even though it might be less 'decisive.'

Alistair Wilson's picture
Mon, 22/09/2014 - 08:01

Janet - I've followed the inspections of free schools from the start - I make it 79 schools inspected - its taken Ofsted some time to publish all the results this year.

I make the results as follows -
GOOD 3646%

The government's insistence that this policy would result in outstanding provision has been shown as at best incorrect, at worst as fraudulent. 30% of the free school provision is less than Good!

Removing schools by renaming them is simply a continuation of the methods used to hide failing schools under new academy status.

The DfE have also been 'lucky' in that Discovery and Al Madinah were the only inadequate reports to make major headlines - one by 'virtue' of being first, the other because of the media coverage of the 'faith' element. Who could name the other three? And one has now been vanished.....

The DfE have also NOT been swift in closing inadequate schools - they were only able to close Discovery with such fanfare because it was so small and there were ample spaces available in Crawley. Closing Al Madinah would have been far more problematic because of the pressure on Derby school places. (NB Al Madinah has not closed - the secondary section only has been shut). The other three soldier on, under assumed names?

79 free schools is indeed a very small sample to draw conclusions from - however this doesn't stop the DfE from making inflated claims for the policy's success at every turn, and, as you say, vilifying state provision at every opportunity.

I often wonder what pressure is put on Ofsted to reduce the negativity and improve the results. Interestingly another of the currently inadequate schools is being improved rapidly by linking it with another 'successful' free school. Unfortunately that supporting school has just been told it has to remove the 'Ofsted Outstanding' banner from its website - as it hasn't been inspected yet!!!!

Sometimes I think you couldn't make it up.....

Janet Downs's picture
Mon, 22/09/2014 - 09:06

Alistair - the Advertising Standards watchdog has censured free schools for claiming they are 'outstanding' before Ofsted has inspected. These include IES Breckland (Ofsted: Inadequate) and Hartsbrook E-Act, which kept the outstanding claim on its website even after Ofsted judged it Inadequate. Hartsbrook E-Act, however, is no more - and, as I pointed out above, its replacement schoo, Brook House Primary,l is not registered on Edubase as in special measures. School performance tables make it clear that Hartsbrook E-Act has been closed and Brook House Primary is a new school opening in September 2014.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 26/09/2014 - 13:42

UPDATE Thanks to intervention by FullFact, which asked the UK Statistics Authority to look at DfE claims that free schools were twice as likely to be judged Outstanding than other schools judged under the same framework, DfE statisticians have had to issue a document about the use of free school performance statistics. It says:

1 Ofsted's inspections are 'proportionate'. That means the other schools inspected by Ofsted under the new framework were more likely to have been previously judged Requires Improvement or Inadequate. The DfE put it thus:

'Therefore, within any one year, the sample of schools inspected by Ofsted is not representative of all schools: outstanding and good schools are under-represented, whilst those requiring improvement or inadequate are over-represented. The findings cannot be interpreted as a balanced view of the quality of education nationally.'

2 Only a small number of free schools have been inspected.

The DfE statisticians warn:

'Caution should therefore be taken when drawing conclusions about the performance of all open free schools and when comparing free schools to other schools.'

Let's hope politicians and the New Schools Network take heed of this warning.

PS The DfE document makes it clear that the Inadequate Discovery Free School is missing from the list of inspected free schools because it has closed. This, of course, reduces the number and proportion of failing free schools. As Hartsbrook E-Act has now officially closed, then it can be expected that this school will also disappear from DfE free school stats.

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