Local authority maintained schools are among the best in the country when judged by Progress 8. I’ve said so before.
But let's be honest: this description can be applied to other types of school. The ‘top ten’ includes academies, Muslim schools, a Steiner school, a Jewish school, non-selective schools, a selective school, faith schools and non-faith schools. And free schools.
You would think from the hype that free schools were the only ones in the ‘top ten’. Their appearance caused Mark Lehain, director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence, to write a Telegraph article headlined: ‘Free schools are now the best in the country - it's time for the Government to renew its commitment to deliver more of them’.
But substitute ‘free schools’ for any other type of school in the ‘top ten’ – as I’ve done – and the statement could be used to endorse any of them.
Lehain writes about the success of Bedford Free School where he was once head. Its GCSE exam results, he explains, were the best in Bedford. That’s true. But this tells us more about the intake than the school’s effectiveness. Its Progress 8* was average – the same as 40% of English state secondary schools.
There’s nothing wrong with being average – it means pupils made the progress expected of them based on their prior achievement at the end of primary schools.
Lehain cherry picks the free schools where pupils shone in GCSEs. But there are others where pupils did poorly. If it’s fair to say, as the New Schools Network does, that the average P8 score of free schools is the highest of all types of school, then it’s equally fair to say 20% of free schools are below the P8 floor standard - more than other type of school.
But that’s misleading – there are too few free schools which have entered pupils for GCSEs to make a reliable conclusion. At least Lehain admits that.
A ‘recent challenge’ to free schools is moving money from their capital funding to find extra money for all schools, Lehain said. He forgets when Michael Gove was education secretary he took £400m from Basic Needs Funding, money to help local authorities create school places, to prop up the free school programme.
This diversion of cash is a ‘mistake’, Lehain writes. It will be more difficult for parents, teachers and local charities to set up schools. But most free schools aren’t started by these groups but by multi-academy trusts.
Lehain ends by saying:
‘Given the position of free schools in today’s league tables…I hope that the new Education Secretary Damian Hinds will make it a priority to find the means to refresh and reenergise this policy once again.’
But, as I’ve already said, this could apply to any type of school. This shows how daft these kinds of statements are.
*Progress 8, although better than judging schools solely on attainments, is still a flawed measure. But it used by the Department of Education to judge schools.