Fifteen free schools changed hands in financial year 2018/19, Department for Education data reveals*. This brings the total of free schools transferred to new trusts to 46**, 10% of open free schools***.
Nine transfers were initiated by the trust running the free school. One further school, Daventry Hill School, was rebrokered when the operating trust, Education Excellence for All Trust, closed. No grant funding was provided.
Five of the free schools transferred in 2018/19 were due to DfE ‘intervention’. The DfE awarded grant funding in all five cases with amounts ranging from £36k to £150k. The total amount for transferring these five schools was nearly £500k.
The most notorious transfer initiated by DfE intervention was Route 39 transferred to Launceston College and renamed Atlantic Academy with £150k grant funding.
Route 39 had been controversial from the outset. It was set up in an area which already had surplus places. The site was bought for £3m but the full capital costs have not yet been published. In 2017, Route 39 was judged inadequate and entered none of its Year 11 cohort for GCSEs. Despite this dismal record, Route 39 still appears as a case study at the New Schools Network, the taxpayer-funded charity which promotes free schools.
Two previously transferred free schools have since closed
The first transferred free school to subsequently close was St Michael’s Catholic School, Cornwall, a former independent school which became staate-funded despite there being 700 surplus places locally. It transferred to the CSIA trust in financial year 2015/16. and closed in August 2016.
The Minerva Academy, formerly CET Westminster, was transferred to REAch2 in 2014/15 with grant funding of £110k. It closed in August 2018 unable to recruit sufficient pupils and after what a local paper described as ‘six chaotic years’.
A total of thirteen free schools had closed by the end of December 2018 according to Schools Week. This figure doesn’t include Trafalgar College, the Great Yarmouth free school opened by Inspiration Trust. It closed after merging with another Inspiration school, Great Yarmouth Charter Academy. In a bizarre twist, GYCA was rebranded as a free school. Trafalgar College has been airbrushed from the government’s database for schools.
Note: the figures above don’t include transferred UTCs and studio schools. These will be the subject of a future article.
*Table downloadable here.
**The official figure is 47 but one free school, Barnfield Moorlands, was a paper transfer after the dissolution of Barnfield Federation. The part of Barnfield Federation which ran Barnfield academies split off and changed its name from Barnfield Academies Trust to The Shared Learning Trust. It was, however, run by the same people. I have omitted Barnfield Moorlands from the total transferred free schools.
***As at 10 December 2018 there were 442 open free schools (not including UTCs/studio schools). See House of Lords Library briefing for a debate on Free Schools 10 January 2019. I am unable to provide a link.