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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!

awayinamanger Sun 08-Jan-12 21:29:56


Killmenowpls Sun 08-Jan-12 21:35:45

thank you Away grin

pimmsgalore Sun 08-Jan-12 21:41:48

there was one that tried to do it here, was looking at sending mine there but then as it didn't get free school status it went bust and all the DCs were told on Monday that school was shutting on Friday. I would be asking if there are any financial problems if I was you

coccyx Sun 08-Jan-12 21:43:22

Have to ask what happens to other children in area who need a state place

fivegomadindorset Sun 08-Jan-12 21:45:31

They are setting up one round here in 2013.

Tranquilidade Sun 08-Jan-12 21:46:35

Lots of independent schools are struggling at the moment so have heard of several trying to merge or become free schools but have not heard of any that have done it other than in the big educational trusts. One school near us is part of UCST and they have done this sort of thing with some of their schools.

Killmenowpls Sun 08-Jan-12 21:48:52

Coccyx - Sorry, I don't understand your question? confused

Interesting re monetary problems, there are definitely a lot of bursaries available at the school and some very low class sizes too, so perhaps there are money issues for the school.

Five - Im assuming you're in Dorset? We're West Midlands.

awayinamanger Sun 08-Jan-12 22:27:16

here's a map showing where free schools are opening. It doesn't tell you if they are currently private though. I know St Michael's in Cornwall is though.

Runoutofideas Mon 09-Jan-12 07:53:01

Colston's Girls in Bristol has done this and they are still very well regarded and achieving good results - however they haven't yet had GCSE results for their first intake on the "Fair banding system" which will, I think, be more revealing. At the moment the children taking GCSEs are those who joined when the school was academically selective and fee paying. Under the new system, everyone sits an exam and they band them A-E then take 20% from each band thus ensuring a comprehensive intake - well that's how I understand it anyway. My children don't go there though, so can only go on local reputation.

Runoutofideas Mon 09-Jan-12 07:54:04

It turned into an academy rather than a free school, but I think the differences between the two are more in the logistics of the set-up rather than the subsequent running of the school.

hocuspontas Mon 09-Jan-12 08:18:23

I'm sure they just can't keep the current children. Wouldn't all children have to apply for a place and get accepted based on fair admission criteria?

Runoutofideas Mon 09-Jan-12 09:13:26

I don't think so, because how can you kick out children who have started their GCSE courses? Especially when Free Schools are often set up in areas which are lacking in school places. They couldn't turf children out and leave them with no school place. They have a commitment to the current children to keep them there. They may take in extras if the school is larger as an academy/free school, but in general the intake changes lower down the school for standard year 7 entry. If the independent school closes rather than converts then it may be a different story....

MoreBeta Mon 09-Jan-12 09:21:31


I very much agree that a lot of independent schools (and especially girls independent near boys independent schools that have gone mixed) are under financial pressure.

I have wondered if one or several of our local independent schools might be looking at becoming a Free school. There just isn't the wealth in our area to suatin teh number of independent schools we have. Several Prep schoosl have merged and with falling house prices Grandparents are less willing/able to release capital to pay for school fees now.

themightyfandango Mon 09-Jan-12 10:07:04

This school changed to a free school last september, if you do some digging via google there might be opinions floating about.


honisoit Mon 09-Jan-12 12:01:07

If they are applying to be a free school, there are almost certainly serious financial problems. The large number of bursaries and small classes are another indicator.

They won't be accepted as a free school if they have significant debt, which is likely.

What stage is the application at? Are they at the gathering info stage, where they assess the demand in the local community? Have they offered any alternative proposal should the free school application be unsuccessful? What is their plan for remaining open as an independent school? Expect an exodus of pupils at this time.

Free schools can set their own admissions criteria as long as they are not academically selective. This includes retaining current pupils.

soandsosmummy Mon 09-Jan-12 17:19:01

Are they a registered charity - if so you should be able to check their accounts for free through the charities commission website. If they are a limited company you'd need to pay a small charge to download them from companies house. It does sound like a financial problem to me.

mumblesmum Mon 09-Jan-12 18:37:11

This is going to liven up the state Vs private debate!

Killmenowpls Tue 10-Jan-12 10:27:57

Hocus - they have said all children currently there have a guaranteed place.

They are currently part of a charity I believe SoandSo, will have a look at the accounts.

Honisoit - interesting, thank you. Currently they are at the gathering info stage I believe, they have a questionnaire to assess demand in the community. I'm a bit scared at what will happen if they are unsucessful now. We have a meeting tomorrow night to talk about this so will update then when I know more.

Thanks again for all your replies.

choccyp1g Tue 10-Jan-12 10:32:49

I wouldn't get your hopes up about getting a private education for free, as surely the Government funding could only apply to the new intake?

unreasonablemuch Tue 10-Jan-12 11:10:20

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

honisoit Tue 10-Jan-12 18:16:48


Let us know how the meeting goes.

I imagine that this is a huge shock to all involved - both parents and teachers, as well as students, of course.

Expect the meeting to be extremely hostile. Expect the press to be involved and the chattering classes in your local community.

Expect competitor schools to aggressively advertise for your pupils and to spread untruths about your school. Most of all, expect parents to panic and to jump.

Is there an third party company running this?

If your school is in a bad financial situation, with debts, it is unlikely that you could become a free school. The money in the pot is not there to pay off debts.

The idea behind free schools is that, ultimately, you become a state school with 30 pupils in a class. This is all the long term funding allows, although the school would be able to use voluntary contributions to reduce class sizes. If your school building cannot accommodate these enormous classes at this time, the slush fund that the school applies for is to cover any transition period (in the region of 5 years).

What you need at this stage is a true alternative to the free school (an 'independent school' scenario). Without this, you will haemorrage pupils. Although it is nice to think of getting this style of education for free, the majority of families are in your school because they want independent - and will go wherever they find this. You need the trustees to come up with a cost effective strategy that will allow you to remain open. This typically means getting rid off all the non-essential costs, and to invite those families on bursaries to start paying (or to leave). Bursaries only need to be around 5% of fee income, and you will get this by keeping on your bursary pupils who are currently in exam classes.

If the free school proposal is accepted by government, you are laughing. The characteristics of your school will change, but over a five year period. You have to think how this will impact your own children. The effect will depend on their year group. If the free school is not accepted, or the process is sluggish, this will take the toll on your school. You will lose pupils in the period of uncertainty and find it difficult to recruit new ones. There will probably be staff redundancies, and deep cuts in school services. One of the frustrating things you will find is to know when people are being straight with you, or whether they are being economical with the truth.

Good luck and please keep us posted.

LittenTree Tue 10-Jan-12 20:02:56

Now I don't know if what I think I read is true: That Gove is considering allowing free schools to be selective?

I could certainly believe it in that this brave new experiment of his has to be seen to be working (i.e. good GCSE results which is the only currency that counts, innit?!) - therefore it's in his interests to 'bend the rules' a bit to achieve that. I mean, did I not also read that Toby Young and the other founders of that west London free school were able to circumvent the strict, 'fair', entrance criteria to allow their own DC in (the 'logic' being no one would set up a free school with all the hassle involved if it didn't directly benefit themselves)?.

We'll see the same happen with the privatisation of the NHS. Lansley has to make it seem to be working so he will 'allow' private companies to pick and choose what they will and won't do so as to entice them into the market place.

It's what the Conservatives do. So I confidently expect to see the emergence of schools that are 'private' and selective- except the lucky parents won't have to pay, and I foresee the 'sharp elbowed' amongst us lining up to get our DCs in! I believe would if it were an option. But I shouldn't be allowed to.

Killmenowpls Tue 10-Jan-12 21:16:32

Very interesting posts, thank you.

I've had a chat tonight with a friend who has chatted with a class teacher and she says that class sizes will be capped at 20.

She says it will be 'selective' whatever that means but doesn't know on what criteria.

When I said that it might not go through if there are debts etc she said that the government had approached the school not the other way round confused

Very curious, I'm awaiting tmrw night with trepidation...

prh47bridge Tue 10-Jan-12 22:31:13

LittenTree - Free schools cannot be selective. I have not seen any indication that Gove is considering changing that. I would be very surprised given that Cameron upset some in his own party by ruling out new grammar schools whilst he was Leader of the Opposition.

Toby Young's school were not allowed to admit the founders' children unless they qualified under the admission criteria. As far as I am aware they did not even attempt to admit these children. However, the proposed new Admissions Code (which won't come in until 2013) would allow free schools to give priority to such children in their admission critera.

Gove has said repeatedly that profit making companies will not be allowed to run academies or free schools.

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