43% of free schools have negative Progress 8 score

Janet Downs's picture

One, Robert Owen Academy, closed permanently in August

43% of free schools which entered pupils for GCSEs in 2018 had a negative Progress 8 (P8) score*, Schools Week** reports. 

The free school with the lowest negative score (-2.99), Robert Owen Academy in Hereford, closed in August after being judged Inadequate for the second time in November 2016.

Route 39 closed for ‘fresh start’ at end of September

The free school formerly called Route 39 was closed for a ‘fresh start’ at the end of last month.  It reopened on 1 October as Atlantic Academy.  Route 39 entered none of its 2017 cohort for GCSEs in breach of its statutory duties and funding agreement.  The P8 score for 2018 was well below average.

Steiner Academy Exeter threatened with termination

Steiner Academy Exeter was recently threatened with having its funding terminated following concerns about a ‘serious breakdown’ in management and the safety of staff and pupils.  Its provisional P8 score was -1.27. 

New Schools Network boasts ‘fantastic success’ of free schools

Despite the poor P8 scores for 43% of free schools, Mark Lehain, interim director of the New Schools Network, described the results as ‘a fantastic show of success for free schools.’  

It’s true that some free schools have very high P8 scores – their results have increased the average P8 score for free schools making it appear that free schools as a group outperform all types of other schools.  Lehain has nothing to say about free schools with low scores nor those that have already closed.

UTCs and studio schools omitted from free school P8 average

UTCs and studio schools, also types of free schools, aren’t included in calculating the average P8 score for free schools.  To include them would be to drag down the average.  But UTCs and studio schools are often included in the number of open free schools by the Department for Education (DfE) - another statistical sleight of hand which has been criticised by the UK Statistics Authority

Not possible to come to definite conclusion about free schools as a group

Given the wide variation in results from free schools, it’s not possible to come to a definite conclusion about the performance of free schools as a group.  Just 77 free schools (excluding UTCs and studio schools) entered pupils for GCSEs in 2018.   Department for Education statisticians warn this is too small a sample to draw any kind of conclusion.  Data about free schools should, therefore, be used with caution.


COMING SOON - fun facts about the top ten P8 schools.  


*based on provisional GCSE results published this week

**Subscribers’ edition 154, page 19

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John Mountford's picture
Fri, 26/10/2018 - 15:39

Janet, I find it fascinating that no one in the entire Westminster education establishment (and elsewhere eg The Sutton Trust) has the cognitive capacity to understand the true nature of the attainment gap. We all know that low attainment has potentially negative consequences for life chances and social mobility but it also impacts directly on the troublesome Progress 8 requirements for secondary schools and the iniquitously divisive North/South divide.
If this mix were not already sufficiently toxic, two more factors need to be addressed. Because of the blinkered approach of so many who could elect to change the game for the better, the misuse of the Pupil Premium (see my comment to your recent article) http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2018/10/progress-8-fails-to-reward-inclusive-schools and the entrenched belief that FSM offers a sufficiently robust method for identifying the most vulnerable learners, it is little wonder we seem to be going in circles. The failure to understand the connection between these complex issues reduces our capacity to address this scourge of our nation that is failing all our children.
As you quote him, "Despite the poor P8 scores for 43% of free schools, Mark Lehain, interim director of the New Schools Network, described the results as ‘a fantastic show of success for free schools.’ " This is the latest indication that the leaders of the alleged education reform movement are completely out of touch. He, and far too many others, appear quite incapable of seeing beyond their own ideological shortcomings. When ideology ignores the evidence, how can we ever hope to get to grips with underachievement?
Though there are effective reforms known to work in developing cognitive capacity across the entire ability range, the architects of reform prefer to allow their ostrich mentality to prevail rather than look at the evidence. I fear we are stuck in a vicious circle of wasted opportunities until someone with the courage to do so questions the status quo.

Janet Downs's picture
Fri, 26/10/2018 - 16:54

John - Mark Lehain has just resigned from the charity NSN because NSN turned down his idea to merge NSN with the lobbying group Parents and Teachers for Excellence.    He appears not to understand charity law which forbids political lobbying by charities.    Or, as it appears has been the case with NSN, thinks such petty laws don't apply to a DfE funded charity.

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