The first 24 free schools – how did they fare?

Janet Downs's picture

In the light of the scandal at Kings Science Academy, one of the 24 free schools opened in September 2011 amid great publicity, perhaps it’s time to assess the fortunes of these flagship schools.

At their last inspections, five of the 24 are Outstanding, sixteen are Good, one Requires Improvement and one is Inadequate.  One of the 24 has been closed.

The proportion of first wave free schools judged good or better is 87.5%.  This is higher than the national figure of 84%.  However, it would be unwise to trumpet this figure as a vindication of the free school programme.  The sample is too small and one upgrading from Requires Improvement or downgrading from Good would have a disproportionate effect on the overall figure. 

Ofsted judgements aren’t the whole story, of course.   One of the first 24 is closed; another had a head who’s been found guilty of fraud.  Three trusts associated with first-wave free schools have been issued with Financial Notices to Improve:  Barnfield Federation, CHAT and E-Act.  Two trusts, E-Act and CfBT, have been sent critical letters from Ofsted.  Two schools have been transferred to different trusts and one trust, Barnfield, was ordered to be split up.

Four of the schools which were initially judged Requires Improvement have been upgraded following re-inspection; one, Langley Hall, has been downgraded to Inadequate.  Two of the four upgraded schools had received help from local authorities, inspectors noted.  This is encouraging, especially as LAs are often painted as the problem rather than part of the solution.

Full details of each school are below.

Aldborough E-Act Free School.  Good.  The school was transferred from E-Act after the Education Funding Agency (EFA) censured E-Act for profligate use of public money.  An Ofsted critique of E-Act academies followed.   The school, now Aldborough Primary School, was taken over by Loxford School Trust in 2014 although the school’s website implies Loxford ran the school from 2011.   The transfer from E-Act cost taxpayers £110k. 

All Saints Junior School, Reading.  Outstanding.  The free school is with troubled multi-academy trust CfBT which received a critical Ofsted letter in May 2015.  Publication of the letter was delayed until September 2015.

Ark Conway Primary Academy.   Outstanding. 

Ark Atwood Primary School.  Outstanding.

Batley Grammar School.  Formerly a private school, it was initially judged Requires Improvement but upgraded to Good in January 2015.  Inspectors noted ‘appropriate support’ had been provided by local authority advisers.  LAs are under no legal obligation to help free schools and academies but Kirklees nevertheless did so.

Bristol Free School.  Good.

Canary Wharf College.  Outstanding. 

Discovery New SchoolClosed after Inadequate Ofsted judgement and damning report by the Education Funding Agency into its finances. 

Eden Primary School, London.  Good. 

Etz Chaim Primary School.  Good.

The Free School, Norwich.  Good. 

Kings Science Academy.   Judged Requires Improvement twice.  Former head found guilty of fraud.  Taken over by Dixons Academies Trust (DAT) in January 2015 (transfer cost £Nil) and renamed Dixons Kings Academy.  Ofsted monitoring May 2015 said DAT is ‘providing considerable support’.

Krishna Avanti Primary School, Leicester.  Good.

Langley Hall Primary Academy.  Was initially judged Good.  Downgraded to Inadequate May 2016. Began as a one-form entry but expanded rapidly to four-form entry.  Consulted on becoming an all-through school in February 2016.  In 2012, the academy was censured by the Schools Adjudicator for its admission arrangements.

Maharishi Free School.  A former private school subsequently judged Good. In 2012 the school was censured by the Schools Adjudicator for its admission arrangements. 

Moorlands Free School.  A former private school renamed Barnfield Moorlands and subsequently judged Good.  Was part of the Barnfield Federation which had to be split up following critical EFA and Skills Funding Agency reports.     In 2012 Barnfield Moorlands was one of the Barnfield Federation schools censured by the Schools Adjudicator for admission arrangements.

Nishkam Primary School, Birmingham.  Upgraded to Outstanding in 2015 from Requires Improvement.

The Priors Free School.  A former private school initially judged Requires Improvement.  Upgraded to Good May 2015.

Rainbow Primary School.  Good.

Sandbach School.  A former private school initially judged Requires Improvement.  Upgraded to Good November 2014.  Inspectors said the school’s leaders ‘worked with other schools with the same judgement, the local authority and HMI, with the intention to bring about improvement’.

St Luke’s Church of England Primary School, Camden.  Good

Stour Valley Community School. Good

West London Free School.  Good.  In 2012, WLFS was censured by the Schools Adjudicator for its admission arrangements.  WLFS accounts for year ending 31/8/2014 showed the trust hadn’t complied with funding terms and conditions or the Academies Financial Handbook 2013.  Former schools minister David Laws, in his book Coalition, wrote that by 2014 the ‘big tent’ built by Michael Gove when he first became Education Secretary appeared to have shrunk to Gove, his adviser Dominic Cummings and WLFS founder Toby Young (p434).

Woodpecker Hall Primary Academy.   Good.   Part of Cuckoo Hall Academies Trust (CHAT) which was issued with a Financial Notice to Improve in February 2015.   In 2013, the Schools Adjudicator criticised admission arrangements at three CHAT academies including Woodpecker Hall.  In 2014, Sat results at Cuckoo Hall plummeted – the head blamed staff.   CHAT removed a misleading statement from its websites after intervention by the Advertising Standards Agency in 2015.  Cuckoo Hall was cleared of exam maladministration in 2015.

ADDENDUM 08.37  Schools Week has published analysis which finds 'primary free schools stand out as one of the most biased against the poorer children in their locality'.   The article notes that this is 'Not quite the message Michael Gove had when he launched the free schools programme five years ago'.  The 24 first-wave free schools, remember, were hailed by Gove as being set up by 'crusaders for social justice'.   This appears not to be the case.

ADDENDUM 08.50  Fiona Millar discusses the above analysis in her Guardian article in which WLFS founder Toby Young agrees school admissions are in a mess and need to change.





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