Schools at high risk from new free schools, impact assessments show

Janet Downs's picture

Free school impact assessments are compiled when a school is at the pre-opening stage.  They are not published until after a school has actually opened.  This means local parents and schools are kept in the dark not knowing whether a proposed free school is a threat.

The impact assessments for free schools opened in 2018 have only just been published*.   These appear as a spreadsheet for the first time and show a degree of consistency lacking in the past.

Most of the free schools weren’t assessed as posing a high risk, although there were some oddities which will be the subject of a future post.  Those that were named as being at  high risk are:

John Wallace (sic) CofE Academy, an all-through school in Kent, at high risk from Chilmington Green Primary School.  John Wallis was judged good in 2014.  This was confirmed in a short inspection in 2018.  It had  225 surplus places (capacity 1720).

Three Wiltshire schools,were at high risk from the Great Western Academy.   They are Kingsdown School (required improvement at the time, now an academy), Abbey Park School (inadequate, now an academy) and Swindon Academy (good).  All had spare places.

Droylsden Academy, an 11-16 secondary school in Manchester, at high risk from 11-18 Laurus Ryecroft.  Droylsden required improvement at the time but is now good.  It had 553 surplus places but has reduced its intake from 1400 to 900 and is now full.

St Martin’s Garden primary school, Bath, at high risk from Mulberry Park School.  St Martin’s became an academy in 2016, had 90 spare places and no Ofsted grade.  The predecessor school required improvement.  The academy was judged to require improvement in 2019.

Kingsmeadow Community School, Gateshead, and Discovery School, an inadequate free school in Newcastle with 530 surplus places, were both named as being at high risk from North East Futures UTC.  Kingsmeadow required improvement at the time but is now good.  It had 365 surplus places but this has fallen to 157.  Discovery School was closed after a second inadequate judgement.  It cost £9m to build. 

Southfield Primary School, Brackley, at high risk from The Radstone Primary School.  Southfield required improvement and had 154 spare places (capacity 420).  It has since been judged inadequate and the number of spare places has risen slightly to 157.  Before Southfield became an academy in 2012, it was good.

Pembroke Park Primary School, Salisbury, at high risk from St Peter’s CofE Primary School despite being good.  It had 209 surplus places (capacity 420).  The number of extra places has now fallen to 46.

As I’ve said before, the only valid reason for opening a new school is that extra places are needed.  But many the schools above had surplus places.  Some were good (or have since become good).  This suggests no new school was needed.

EXTRA: 13 February 08.23:  Shooters Hill Sixth Form, Greenwich, is assessed as being at high risk from Leigh Academy Blackheath, an 11-18 free school.


*Impact assessments and methodology downloadable here


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Peter Read's picture
Wed, 12/02/2020 - 21:35

There is no risk whatever that John Wallis (English mathematician of the 17th Century, born in Ashford) CofE, all through, will suffer from Chilmington Green Primary. The latter is the first school in Chilmington, virtually a new town adjacent to Ashford to comprise some 6,000 homes, a secondary school and four primary schools. Building has already started. John Wallis filled 52 of its 60 Reception places this September, Chilmington Green 29 of its 30. There is already pressure in the area and there is likely to be shortage of places next September. As the secondary school is not ready, John Wallis will mop up the secondary demand for the time being.

Janet Downs's picture
Thu, 13/02/2020 - 08:10

Thanks Peter.  This throws doubt on the accuracy of these impact assessments which are, in any case, at least two years out-of-date by the time they're published.  The methodology seems to assess schools with surplus places as being at moderate/high risk from a new school even if the school is good.  I would argue that having surplus places locally is an argument not to open a new school but the government is committed to pushing through as many free schools as possible.

Peter Read's picture
Thu, 13/02/2020 - 11:01

With all new schools being called Free Schools, but run as academies, there is plenty of room for confusion. In Kent all the new Free Schools opened or planned in the next few years are to meet population expansions, especially in the big growth areas of Ashford and Ebbsfleet. You will find the history of every existing and proposed Free School in Kent at It is clear from this that nearly every one, apart from a few at the beginning, has been introduced to met real need. I appreciate this is very different from experiences in some other places.

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