If failing means inadequate, then 25% of secondary pupils attend just 179 schools, free schools charity claims

Janet Downs's picture

‘One in four children go to failing secondary schools,’ says the New Schools Network (NSN), the taxpayer funded charity set up to promote free schools.

3,125 secondary schools had been inspected* up to 31 August 2017.  Of these, 179 were judged inadequate at their last inspection.

If NSN is correct, one-quarter of secondary school pupils are crammed into just 179 schools.

At primary level, the situation is a little better.  ‘One in seven go to failing primary schools,’ NSN claims.

16,185 primary schools had been inspected up to the end of last August.  214 were Inadequate.  Again, if NSN is correct, one in seven primary pupils attend just 214 schools.

It appears that NSN has expanded the definition of ‘failing’.  This could be done by adding in the number of schools which required improvement at their most recent inspection.  The number of ‘failing’ secondary schools would rise to 655 and ‘failing’ primaries to 1547.

But this is sleight of hand.  Schools judged to require improvement aren’t failing.  They are judged to, er, require improvement.

The number of ‘failing’ schools can also be increased by equating ‘underperforming’ with ‘failing’.  Such underperformance could be assessed by attainment only which takes no account of a school’s intake.  Or it could be on progress.

12% of English secondary schools are well-below the average for Progress 8 – 376 schools.  On this measure, 25% of secondary-age pupils in England attend just 376 schools.

Perhaps NSN added in all secondary schools with below-average rather than just well-below-average Progress 8 scores.  This would bump up the number of ‘failing’ secondary schools.  But not all of these are judged inadequate or even require improvement.

There is nothing on NSN’s ‘About us’ page about the role of free schools in addressing the need for school places.  Instead, it concentrates on supplying more ‘good places’.  But there’s no guarantee that free schools will provide good places.  And even if they did, what is the benefit if they threaten the viability of existing schools by causing oversupply?

It appears the ambition to open as many free schools as possible is overriding the need to ensure public money is not wasted.  The only acceptable reason for opening new free schools is to meet a demand for new school places locally.   No amount of tortuous manipulation of data can prove otherwise.

Department for Education must release impact assessments for free schools opened since 2016

One way to test whether a free school is needed is to look at the impact assessment.  Logically, these should be published before a free school opens so stakeholders know how a new school could affect existing schools.  But the Department for Education doesn't do that.  Instead, it waits until free schools open.  But impact assessments for free schools opened since September 2016 haven't yet been published.  The DfE plans to do so but there's no schedule for publication.  It can, then, postpone publication indefinitely. This is not acceptable.  

*Download data here


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