The Department for Education (DfE) says it won’t publish impact assessments for free schools opened in 2016 because they aren’t ready yet, Freedom of Information (FoI) reveals.
This is surprising because the DfE published impact assessments for free schools opening in 2015 on 18 November 2015. Delayed impact assessments for free schools opening in 2014 and 2013 were also published on that date. But the prompt release of the 2015 data just six weeks after the free schools opened suggests the DfE had got its act together by publishing impact assessments without delay.
Unfortunately, efficiency at the DfE seems to have fallen. Impact assessments for free schools opening in September 2016 weren’t published the following November. They haven’t been published at all.
I submitted a request on 1 October asking the DfE to release impact assessments for free schools opening in 2016. In an overdue reply, the DfE said there was a ‘general public interest’ in disclosing the information because of transparency. But disclosure would be ‘in a manner and at a time of its own choosing’.
It was unreasonable, the DfE said, for the public to expect the government to ‘release piecemeal information in advance of its planned timetable’. But there doesn’t seem to be a planned timetable.
It’s reasonable to expect impact assessments to be published annually. There can be no reason for dawdling. What the DfE did in 2015 with 2015 openers it can do again.
It is not the first time the DfE has dragged its feet over publication of data. It was censured by the UK Statistics Authority for its tardiness in releasing the cost of academy transfers. The gap between promising in early 2016 to publish these costs and eventual release in September 2017 was ‘excessive’.
Impact assessments are important. They show the potential impact of a new free school on neighbouring schools.
It would be preferable, of course, if impact assessment were published before a free school opened. This would allow existing schools, their parents and pupils, to know if their school is assessed as being at high risk if the proposed free school opened.
But impact assessments aren’t being published promptly. They are being unreasonably delayed.
An example of why this matters is the proposed amalgamation of Trafalgar College, an Inspiration Trust secondary free school in Yarmouth opened in September 2016, with another Inspiration secondary school, Great Yarmouth Charter Academy. The impact assessment for Trafalgar College would show details of forecast pupil numbers and whether the free school would cause surplus places.
But the impact assessment for Trafalgar College isn’t in the public domain.
Incidents like this raise the suspicion that some free schools are opening in areas where places aren’t needed and which pose a high risk to existing schools. This is not acceptable. It's a profligate waste of public money to create surplus local places. Delaying publication of impact assessments only adds to this suspicion.
CORRECTION 13.52 2 November 2017. The original article said, 'What the DfE did in 2016 with 2016 openers it can do again.' This should have been 2015. I'ts now been corrected. I was getting my 2015s mixed up with my 2016s.