Three out of four 16-19 free schools inspected this year are less than good

Janet Downs's picture
‘Free schools achieve higher standards and offer a genuine alternative.’

Department for Education press release 3 September 2013

In 2013, five 16-19 free schools were opened. Four have been inspected. This is far too small a number of come to any reliable conclusion about how 16-19 free schools compare with other stand-alone 16-19 provision: sixth form and further education colleges. But only one of the four inspected appears to have offered ‘a genuine alternative’ with ‘higher standards'.

Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form, an Inspiration Trust academy in Norwich, is the only one judged Good. Inspectors found students made good progress and received good teaching. Inspectors noted, however, that girls didn’t achieve as well as boys – the gap between them was too wide. Inspectors also found ‘Fewer than three-quarters of students from 2013/14 continued their studies in 2014/15.’ Those who didn’t progress were either repeating their A/S year or joining other colleges.

Connell Sixth Form College, Manchester, Requires Improvement. The curriculum was ‘planned well’ and most students enjoyed attending. However, ‘success rates on AS courses vary from good to poor’ and ‘a significant minority of students do not make sufficient progress.’

The Maltings College, Halifax, was judged Inadequate – not enough students completed courses and this led to a low success rate in some vocational areas. Independent careers education and guidance was insufficient.

Also inadequate was the STEM Academy, Islington. This free school gained notoriety before it opened when it offered an iPad as a prize in a draw for those indicating the academy would be their first choice. This prompted a question in the Lords. Shortly after opening, it faced industrial action over conditions of employment and union recognition. In February, the STEM Academy trust dropped plans to open a STEM 16-19 academy in Croydon. This was after the Department for Education had bought a former police station to accommodate the proposed academy.

Inspectors found ‘too few learners’ at the STEM Academy achieved the qualifications they began, performance management was inadequate, and teaching, learning and assessment were also inadequate.

The single 16-19 free school which opened in 2012, the London Academy of Excellence, was judged Good in March 2014 although inspectors commented on the high staff turnover which was causing inconsistency in teaching. The academy’s reputation was tarnished when it emerged that students who hadn’t achieved high enough grades at A/S level were encouraged to go elsewhere.

This doesn’t appear to be a good start for the flagship 16-19 free schools although, in truth, it’s too soon to tell.


16-19 provision is not inspected in the same way as schools. These establishments receive a Further Education and Skills report which judges on three criteria: Outcomes for learners, Quality of teaching, learning and assessment, and Effectiveness of leadership and management. The four Ofsted reports can be downloaded here.

CORRECTION I originally wrote there were 5 16-19 free schools opening in 2103. This has now been changed.

UPDATE 2 April 2015 One area where free schools have done well are special free schools and alternative provision. Two of the three special free schools were judged Good and one, Rosewood Free School, a special school for 2-19 year-olds in Southampton, was Outstanding. Two of the five alternative provision schools were Good and three, Derby Pride Academy, Stone Soup Academy for 11-19 year-olds in Nottingham, and City Gateway, alternative provision for 14-19 year-olds in Tower Hamlets, were Outstanding. These schools are providing a good education for some of our most vulnerable children.
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Adrian Elliott's picture
Wed, 01/04/2015 - 18:36

The New Statesman has a new article suggesting Labour has failed to capitalise on the many examples of the Coalition's many instances of incompetence since 2010.
The Free schools and Academies programme seems a classic example to me although not mentioned in the article.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 02/04/2015 - 14:07

UPDATE See main article for two sectors of free schools which are doing particularly well: alternative provision and special schools.

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