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Any experience of private school turning to 'Free School'?

(58 Posts)
Killmenowpls Sun 08-Jan-12 21:23:29

The independent school my 2 dds attend has just written to us to say it is applying to become a 'Free School' funded by the Government in 2013. Has anyone had any experience of this?

I think at the moment I'm pleased, I never intended to send dds private, it was just the school we're in catchment for is really bad. So if it means it will stay a half decent school but now I won't have to pay fees, happy days! grin

Anybody got any experience of this at all? I'd never even heard of 'Free Schools' till yesterday!

prh47bridge Tue 10-Jan-12 22:35:22

Just to correct myself slightly - a free school is allowed to be selective for post-16 admissions as is already the case for many sixth forms. However, a free school cannot select on academic ability for pre-16 pupils even if it is converting from a selective independent school. They can select on things like musical ability (as can maintained schools) but not academic ability.

IndigoBell Wed 11-Jan-12 07:21:57

And they can select on non-academic criteria, such as music or sport.

unreasonablemuch Wed 11-Jan-12 09:50:48

Free schools definately can not be selective academically pre 16 at the moment, the dds old school actually gave free places from any area before they turned officially free so they could fill in as many places as possible and didnt have room for the local "deprived area rough children" his words not mine!

LittenTree Wed 11-Jan-12 14:35:44

this may be what I meant

Note: I haven't actually trawled through this though maybe you can see why I was sure I hadn't dreamt it!

honisoit Wed 11-Jan-12 17:25:07

The Guardian article is speculating about academies, not free schools.

Free schools are not allowed to select on academic ability.

They will have selection criteria like any other school, ie looked-after children, catchment area, siblings, etc. They can set aside a certain number of places for religious affiliation and talents. Some schools will have limited appeal, eg curriculum delivered in a foreign language.

What independent schools can do when they convert to a free school is keep on their existing pupils. Ahead of the change, they may recruit new fee-paying students in order to make them eligible for a free-school place.

The profile of the school is likely to go through many changes. At first, those families who would never in a million years use state schools will leave, so that the remaining pupils from the old school are those who struggle to pay fees but value education over most other comforts. Any new fee-paying families will be in a similar category - they can't afford school fees long-term but can dig deep for two terms. After that, it is open to the demographics of the catchment area.

At first, the changes will be small as new pupils join the school to take class sizes up to 16 or 20 (whatever size the classrooms can hold). The school will be similar to most other schools in the area as their class sizes go up to the inevitable 30.

I would take with a pinch of salt that the government invited the school to apply, and that class sizes are limited to 20. The government isn't going to know anything about your school, although the LEA might. 20 isn't feasible based on government funding. There will be a transition fund for about five years to cover building work and small classes, but after this time, the school will be expected to have 30 in a class.

strom Wed 11-Jan-12 22:54:55

You have to bear in mind that this isnt LEA funding (only the admissions criteria is in accordance with the LEA in LINE WITH THE SCHOOL ADMISSIONS POLICY)....its an important point to remember.

Honisoit - Forget the LEA, they run mainstream state schools & academies. This is central govmnt funded scheme. If the resources and class size of the school are limited to 20 then 20 places it is. If the school policy is 20 then its 20 per class - LEA/Dept of Ed cant influence at all. Irrespective of whether its feasible for the government, Dept of Ed pay on a per-head basis; class size per feasibility its nothing to do with it - feasibility is about the school being a going concern overall.

Transition fund - no such thing. Capital is provided by Dept of Ed for NEW SCHOOLS + per-head funding. There is no capital for existing schools.
Contracts for Free Schools have a 7 year notice period for Dept of Ed to withdraw funding. Equally, the same for the school to return to fee paying status. Its in the contract.

honisoit Thu 12-Jan-12 16:46:52

How did the meeting go?

Killmenowpls Thu 12-Jan-12 17:21:14

Meeting was interesting.

Classes will be capped at 20 for Reception and years 1 and 2, rest of school apart from sixth form capped at 22. Only one year group per year. They seem to think this is feasible.

They discussed the 7 year thing which is good.

It all sounds very good, existing pupils will all have a place which is excellent for our eldest dd (selfishly) although not so excellent for our youngest, who is in the nursery where they will receive 'priority' to get a place at the school, but as there are more than 20 pupils in nursery and only 20 places this will mean not every nursery child gets a place. I'm assuming our dd will get priority as she has a sibling at the school?

They said they havent agreed their admissions policy yet but did say it couldnt be selective.

THey talked about having a very wide catchment area although this made no sense to me. They were talking about a catchment of say 40 miles but surely if demand was high this would reduce and reduce till really only the few streets around the school would get a place? If anyone understands this please explain!

The school is currently run by a not for profit trust, but they're saying there is a deficit each year and therefore want to try for free school status. They did not say they would close the school if they didn't succeed but the implication was that 'things would have to change drastically' to get the deficit reduced if they didnt get the free school status.

Killmenowpls Thu 12-Jan-12 17:24:13

One thing that really pissed me off was someone saying (basically) "but poor children might be allowed in and poor parents don't care about their child's education" shock I paraphrase but you get the gist. Very insulting.

Then, and you wont believe this, some bloke stood up and basically said "What if lots of children with SN get in? We all know that SN is another way of saying naughty." ARGHHHHHHHHHHHH

Both of these were ignored/tutted at/glared at so thankfully the rest of the parents don't share these horrendous views angry

IndigoBell Thu 12-Jan-12 17:38:43

A state school is different to a private school, and if it becomes a free school the school will change.

If it's not used to admitting kids who are poor smile or have SN there are likely to be teething problems (at the very least for those kids).

LittenTree Thu 12-Jan-12 19:12:18

And, I confess that, deep in my soul, it does annoy me that such schools can cap their intake at 22 per class. It has been shown that, with 'mixed intake', small class size is up there amongst the best indicators for 'success'. Now, whilst that is of course fantastic if your DC is in such a class, it's not so good for the DC in classes of 34 who 'compensate' for that generosity!

How can they be 'allowed' to 'get away with it'?

I actually know the reason: this government has to be able to demonstrate that its academy/free school scheme is wildly successful. The best way of doing this is to allow such school to 'tweak' things to increase their chance of success, be it via more funding, selection (except for academia, apparently!), safeguarding the existing student body (bet the Cons crow about the success of their scheme this coming summer if not next, overlooking that many DCs in these new 'free schools and academies who pass GCSEs this summer have been 'private', complete with selection and middle-classed-ness!- throughout their ed), and of course, 'allowing' small class sizes.

MrsHoarder Thu 12-Jan-12 19:50:14

They can do the class sizes of 22 because they aren't bound by government contracts. That means that they can do some hours with people who aren't qualified teachers and don't have to agree to the national pay agreements.

Also because they can choose their own intake size and don't have the number of pupils the LEA chooses to give them to a much greater extent.

LittenTree Thu 12-Jan-12 20:01:27

Oh, I'm sure they can do that- what I'm asking is 'How can that be fair?'

Killmenowpls Thu 12-Jan-12 20:27:39

They've said the teaching salaries will go up, not down and said they won't be using non qualified.

Litten - I totally agree that most of the children in the school after it turns to free school will have been privately educated/middle class and therefore the success of the school for at least the first say 5 years could be down to that rather than anything to do with the 'free school' status.

All very confusing. If the interest isnt there locally it won't go ahead anyway so will have to wait and see...

prh47bridge Thu 12-Jan-12 23:14:04

Regarding catchment, if they plan to use a random lottery as their tie breaker it may well be true that children will be able to get in from a wide area.

LittenTree - Any school can cap class sizes at 22 if they want provided they can do so without running a deficit. According to the 2010 school census the average class size at secondary schools is 20.5. Only 6.5% of classes have more than 30 pupils.

Academies, free schools and voluntary aided schools (i.e. most faith schools) set their own admission number. The LA only sets the admission number for community schools and voluntary controlled schools. The school can appeal to the Schools Adjudicator if they object to the admission number set by the LA but the rules are such that the LA will normally win. All of this was exactly the same under the last government.

School funding is complex but in essence a free school will receive the same amount per pupil as other schools in the area plus some additional funding (LACSEG) to cover services which the LA provides to maintained schools but which free schools have to fund for themselves.

All secondary schools are free to select on aptitude for certain subjects provided no more than 10% of their pupils are selected in this way. A free school is subject to the same rules.

Loshad Sat 14-Jan-12 13:28:32

prh47bridge, how on earth does the census get that figure - is it by means of including the pupils who have 1:1 or 1:2 in learning support units within the school. I've worked in 4 secondary schools and none of them had normal class sizes around 20 for pre 16 education.
I currently teach 11 groups from y8-y13, the y13 groups are less than 20, all 3 are 12-15 pupils in number so if you add those in the averages go down, would do even more so for post 16 languages which do not seem to be very popular at all, but all my main school classes are much bigger. I have 2 classes of 31 out of my 7 main school classes, and in fact all our top sets throughout the 11-16 age range have 31 or 32 students in them.
Basically don't be fooled by the "average" class size fellow mumsnetters, most students in nearly all schools are in classes of 26-31 for nearly all subjects (DT/food tech tend to be exceptions).

prh47bridge Sat 14-Jan-12 15:31:27

I cannot give a definitive answer to that question but the way the data is collected suggests that the average is not driven down by pupils in learning support units as you suggest - teachers giving 1:1 support to pupils are specifically excluded from the census, for example. The information available suggests the figure is driven down by KS4 and KS5 class sizes. The KS3 figure is a little over 24, KS4 is around 20 and KS5 is around 12. Even taking the KS3 figure, this school's ambition of capping at 22 doesn't seem too far out of line.

The figure has been falling for the last 5 years at least, from 21.5 in 2006 and was actually 20.4 in 2011 - apologies for the typo in my previous post.

Loshad Sat 14-Jan-12 17:25:03

ah ok, can see if you include ks5 the average would dip massively. Still somewhat surprised at your KS3 and 4 figures.

honisoit Sat 14-Jan-12 17:49:34

I imagine that the average class size is much higher in over-subscribed schools, with typical class sizes in KS3 subjects and in core subjects in KS4 of 30 to a class. Options subjects may well have much smaller classes.

Dozer Sun 15-Jan-12 10:08:53

Presumably if DfE refuses funding then the school would have to close sooner rather than later?

Is there actual evidence that DfE approached them, rather than the other way round? What are DfE's policies on selecting free schools? Can they confirm that they approached the school?

I would be looking for another school tbh, as it all sounds fragile.

Dozer Sun 15-Jan-12 10:10:20

Sounds like the school is desperately looking for a way to stay open. No guarantee that they will get approval from DfE.

strom Sun 15-Jan-12 13:39:56

Dozer - the school has net assets of c£1m. These is no suggestion it will close.

Govmnt Building For Schools programme still wont deliver enough school places . Estimates of child place requirements to grow 15% for 2014/15 intake.

Free Schools will basically "purchase" the 53,000 available places in the private sector - we will see much more of this. Its cheaper to educate in the private sector over state schools and results are (generally) much better. Its a sound policy.

honisoit Sun 15-Jan-12 14:26:41

It's a sound policy, but I don't think it will pay off debts of any school. The school has to basically be viable now, and in the future.

Killmenowpls Sun 15-Jan-12 17:01:09

Dozer how do you know what assets the school has? confused

Dozer Sun 15-Jan-12 21:35:25

I didn't say anything about knowing about the assets, just - to me, uninformed lay person!- the situation sounds fragile, if it isn't viable as a private school (loss-making, are the assets in cash or property?) and isn't selected as a free school. Think losses were mentioned upthread. if the accounts were available would be looking at them, eg for bank loans (that could be called in) trends etc.

Strom, is it really cheaper to educate in the private sector, per head?

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