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Free schools

(24 Posts)
yellowsubmarine53 Sat 05-Jan-13 08:58:12

And the reality is that there are thousands of parents who can say the same about their local maintained school.

As you say, it's the quality of the teaching etc that makes a school good or not, not whether it's free, academy, maintained, private etc.

Silver15 Fri 04-Jan-13 22:57:35

My ds2 is in a free school and I'm very impressed at the quality of teaching and pastoral care. The teachers and the head are very accessible and always available to address any concern. The parents are good and all seem involved. And yes they also cater for SEN and one of my son's classmates has SEN.

The only comparison I have is with my DS1's private school and trust me I'm more impressed with the free school. The NC is followed and every pupil's potential seems to be harnessed (at least my DS has been).

admission Thu 03-Jan-13 15:14:02

I would agree with you in theory. However the last 20 years in education says that failing schools have been allowed to continue long after they should have been sorted out. The reasons vary from school to school but the bottom line is that the kind of failure that exists in schools would not be accepted in industry, but some how has been tolerated in education.
It would seem that where we are talking about free schools, Mr Gove's answer is not necessarily to deal directly with the under performing, failing school but allow another new school which will become the "go to" school. If the failing school has no pupils, then funding is low and the school will either suffer a slow agonising death or get its finger out and improve.
Having said that all the proposed free schools, local to me are not in that situation they are all in areas that have an under capacity for places. They are satisfying the demand that existing schools cannot take up, even though a lot of the ill-informed rhetoric about allowing the free schools is about taking pupils from existing schools.
Mr Gove's other strand is to push very strongly for poorly performing schools to become academies - so any school that was termed satisfactory under the old Ofsted terminology and now is in need of improvement is a target for conversion. On the basis of the law of averages, some of these sponsored academies will be a success but some will be failures, so I can't see every school in England being considered good by Ofsted anytime in my life time.

nlondondad Thu 03-Jan-13 14:21:34


You said:-

"The question that is currently not possible to answer is whether new free schools have been set up because other local schools were rubbish and therefore quite rightly they will now suffer the consequences of being perceived as rubbish."

This begs the question as to whether or not it would be a more effective use of public money to improve the existing schools, whether through special measures or otherwise, than the substantial start up costs of a entirely new school. More over if a free school is set up, and because it is perceived as being better than existing schools, attracts through parental choice, pupils from the other schools, leaving them with vacant places, this is arithmetic proof that there are more places than pupils in the area. Consequently public money has been spent on creating places that are not needed. I see no way around this. or am I missing something?

yellowsubmarine53 Thu 03-Jan-13 13:14:58

Yes, precisely, it's the new person in charge who seems to be improving things.

The school wasn't a 'basket case'. It was a new school established in 2005 to replace the 'failing' Ramsgate School.

It was first judged to be 'good', then 'satisfactory' and then first judged 'inadequate' in 2010.

admission Thu 03-Jan-13 12:02:06

I think that it depends on what you call progress.
If you look at the Ofsted site, you will see that since being put into special measures there have been three termly visits by HMI, In all three visits the progress has been satisfactory. There is a new person in charge and things do seem to be improving slowly.
Is becoming an academy a quick fix? This story tells you that it is not and any sane person will also say that you cannot turn around a school that has been a basket case for years in a matter of months. It is a matter of years and almost invariably after significant changes in the SLT and other staff.

yellowsubmarine53 Thu 03-Jan-13 09:48:00

prh is correct that some academies set up under the last government have showed significant improvements.

Research findings have validated this - Gove has most frequently cited Professor Machin's LSE research to back up his ideology.

Professor Machin, however, is very clear that his research based on the academies set up under Labour should not be used to justify the Coalition's agenda of converter academies.

Btw, here's the latest state of play at Marlowe Academy in Kent which the Guardian article mentions.

I'm intrigued as to how this school which Ofsted have repeatedly judged to be inadequate in all areas provides evidence for the silver bullet success of academies, even this with millions of pounds of public money thrown at them, as those under the last Labour government did.

prh47bridge Thu 03-Jan-13 00:21:00

Supporters of academies would argue that the academies set up under the last government showed significant improvement. They believe that conversion to academy status with external sponsors is responsible for ensuring good governance, leadership and teaching. Opponents, of course, interpret the evidence differently.

yellowsubmarine53 Wed 02-Jan-13 20:12:23

I completely agree with admission's last point - it is good governance, leadership and teaching which make a school good or not, not its academy/maintained status.

Gove is too smart to really believe his own rhetoric about the silver bullet that is his academy agenda - it's a completely ideological move with absolutely no empirical basis.

admission Wed 02-Jan-13 16:57:28

From April there is a new funding formula which has been introduced nationally but each LA can tweek slightly to suit themselves. The bad point about this is that it will mean major increases and decreases in school funding for different schools because the old funding systems were LA based and could be fiendishly complicated and not pupil number orientated. The good point is that more funding has been devolved from the Local Authority to the schools and schools effectively have to buy back services (or not) from the Local Authority. That is the extra funding that nlondondad refers to (its correct name is LACSEG) that both free schools and academies were getting. So in effect all schools will get funding on the same basis from April (september for academies) and this argument about extra funding will hopefully go away.
What is however clear is that the new funding formula is more directed towards the number of pupils in a school. So if the school is only half full then it will not be getting as much funding and yes nlondondad if there are not enough pupils to go around in an area then the schools will all be under pressure or more likely the "go to" schools will be full and the "not popular" schools will be struggling on pupil numbers and financially.
The question that is currently not possible to answer is whether new free schools have been set up because other local schools were rubbish and therefore quite rightly they will now suffer the consequences of being perceived as rubbish. Or whether as suggested in the example at Beccles, the pupil numbers simply do not add up and will cause all schools even those that are good to suffer financially. Time I suspect will sort out the situation and that is what Mr Gove is hoping, that with time good schools will prosper and poor schools will wither and die or become successful academies. The last bit is where I have a real problem with Mr Gove's thinking. Calling a poor school an academy does not make it a good school, it only becomes a good school because someone (the staff and governors) make it a good school

yellowsubmarine53 Tue 01-Jan-13 22:10:16

Your middle paragraph is the basis of the various campaigns there have been and are around the country to oppose setting up a free school in areas where there are sufficient or a surplus of places.

The Beccles Free School being one of the most high profile campaigns, partly because of the strength of feeling in the local community (a petition against being signed by over 3,000 local people, though not considered part of the 'consultation') and partly because of the courage and good sense of the Head of the nearest school which has enough places for the community and stands to lose pupils and funding as a result of a completely unnecessary school being established. Although 37 pupils isn't going to make a difference at the moment, of course.

Gove's idea of a 'supply side revolution' and 'letting the market' decide is at best hopefully naive and at worst purposefully destructive when it comes to education. The countries with the highest performing education systems are those where schools work collaboratively, rather than competing against each other.

nlondondad Tue 01-Jan-13 21:08:30

As others have said, the "direction of travel" of school funding is towards funding all schools "free" or "community" on the basis of pupils -with a one rate for ordinary pupils and another rate - the "pupil premium" for pupils on free school meals. At the moment the local authority provides services for community schools, and the free schools get an extra grant to allow them to buy services, or do them themselves, which if they were a community school they would get provided for them. (Well that is the theory, in practice calculating what size the extra grant should be for a free school has been difficult, and there is a wide spread view that the grant to Free Schools and Academies has been set at too high a level before now, and will be scaled down in future.)

This means that if a school is not fully enrolled it looses money. This is true now, and will be even truer in the future. This means that if a free school is approved for an area where there is insufficient demand, it could end up being underfunded and by depriving local schools of pupils cause them to be underfunded.

Have I got this right? I would welcome comment.

yellowsubmarine53 Sat 29-Dec-12 23:22:43

OP, you sound like a journalist, though do excuse me if you're not.

Asking what free schools are like is a bit like asking what maintained schools are like - some will be good and others not.

Of course educational decisions are political. No government pays more than scant attention to any empirical research. This government's current pet projects are academies and free schools as it wishes to devolve power from local authorities, weaken unions and undermine the teaching profession.

There's absolutely no evidence that converting to an academy improves educational standards by the way.

As admission rightly points out, the biggest crisis facing UK education is going to be the increased demand for reception places over the next few years, especially in urban areas. Unfortunately, there is coherent no strategy to properly address this, as people can basically set up free schools where they like as long as their friends in the Govt approves.

admission Sat 29-Dec-12 21:42:23

Free schools is a political decision. In effect Mr Gove has made it impossible for any LA to open any more community schools, they will either be academies or free schools. The problem that Mr Gove and the Department seem to have missed is that the LA has a statutory duty to ensure there are sufficient school places within the LA for the expected number of pupils. The LA can therefore extend existing schools but not put in place new schools. What it also cannot do is dictate, in reality, where free schools will be set up. This to me is a big potential problem because in too many instances the free school is setting up in a leafy suburb not necessarily where there is the need for school places.
We can only wait and see how free schools develop but what Mr Gove expects is that these new school will be far better schools than some of those already in existence and the poor schools will either wither and die or will be converted into new academies, when they will suddenly be good schools!
What I am sure about is that with the same funding as maintained schools the idea of classes of 20 or 25 is not going to be financially viable for most free schools, unless they are getting substantial funding from some other source.

prh47bridge Sat 29-Dec-12 21:22:03

The government argues that the evidence from other countries who have adopted this policy is that it results in improved standards. A study in Sweden published in October found that areas with free schools showed improved results compared to areas without. They found that conventional state schools in areas with free schools improved their results to match the free schools. State schools in areas without free schools did not improve in the same way.

There is nothing in the article to which you link to indicate that proposals were rejected due to perceived problems with the teaching plans. The article is nearly 2 years old and is from a body that is pursuing a particular political agenda. The success rate of applications has improved.

The fact that some schools were undersubscribed does not mean they are not helping to solve shortages in primary school places. It simply means that parents are often reluctant to apply for a new school, especially where there are campaigners who maintain that it will be a disaster. Many of the schools have opened in places where there are or soon will be significant shortages of primary school places.

GrumpySod Sat 29-Dec-12 19:15:49

The funding comments aren't mine, just things I've read.

So why is the government promoting free schools then?

This says that primary purpose of FS is to put pressure on under performing regular schools to improve. Bit like the Friedman argument that no H&S regulations are ever necessary, the free market will sort it all out instead. Let's not worry about what harm happens in meantime, eh, or who is held responsible.

That article also says that secondary purpose of FS is innovation in teaching: but (I'm following local repeat failures to get a FS started) the teaching plans & approach actually have to be very firm to get approval, something like 85% of FS applications are getting turned down. Seems like govt. will only fund fairly conventional looking "free" schools, after all.

How can a FS get good SAT results if they don't teach to the test & probably therefore loosely follow NC? And FS aren't solving shortages in primary school places either.

prh47bridge Sat 29-Dec-12 18:26:18

And as Admission says, in a few months time the funding situation changes so that free schools and academies are funded in the same way as other schools.

prh47bridge Sat 29-Dec-12 18:24:57

I disagree with EducationState's second point.

Most LAs provide much less in the way of pooled services to schools than many people seem to think. Almost all LAs devolve the funding for learning support to schools, so a free school would be in exactly the same position as an LA-controlled school when it comes to providing support to children with learning difficulties. I should also point out that the LA is responsible for SEN assessments, monitoring provision for children with statements of SEN, ed psych and some other related services. The LA provides these services to free schools and academies as well as LA-controlled schools.

I also disagree with GrumpySod. Once the school is set up and running it will receive additional funding for the responsibilities it takes on that are handled by the LA for LA-controlled schools. They therefore receive more funding than LA-controlled schools - hardly a cost saving. The school can use this additional funding to buy services from the LA (many LAs are now providing services to academies and free schools in this way) or elsewhere. There is no reason for voluntary groups to take on additional duties, although it is clearly open to them to do so if they wish.

admission Sat 29-Dec-12 18:08:02

Grumpysod, sorry but you are wrong, it is not a cost-saving exercise because free schools will from April 2013 be funded in exactly the same way as any other state maintained school. So in a school with the same number of pupils they will get the same amount of funding. Plus there is not a chance in hell that anybody is going to volunteer to run on a day to day basis such schools for nothing, they are all going to get paid. The people who already volunteer and manage in every state maintained school in the country are the school governors!
Yes it is possible for the free school to employ people who are not qualified teachers and therefore in theory create a "surplus" each year, but that surplus will need to be spent over time within the school. It is also quite clear from previous state funded schools that performed badly that parents will vote with their feet, that is go to another school if at all possible. So to me if the school does not employ qualified teachers they are in the longer term going to find out the error of their decision.
Are Free Schools going to be the magnificent success that Gove expects? I suspect not, some will be very good, some will be very bad and most will be OK, just like other state maintained schools.

GrumpySod Sat 29-Dec-12 17:36:59

The cynical view is that it's govt way of getting voluntary groups to take on more duties that used to done by paid (trained vetted qualified) staff working for local education authority. On average, this may mean it's more likely that things will be run badly. So the whole thing is a cost-saving exercise, dressed up as "choice".

StarOfLightMcKings3 Sat 29-Dec-12 17:14:10

I disagree with EducationState.

State education is not based on latest educational research, but politics largely, as well as arbitrary targets, school and classroom management and generic, economies of scale, poor outcome interventions for children who need additional support.

Free schools provide the opportunity to match your child's needs with the provision offered.

EducationState Sat 29-Dec-12 16:56:42

"This means that if you're child has a learning difference or difficulty (e.g. dyslexia), for example, the new free school may not be able to provide adequate support."
Sorry for the typo. Should read "your child" not "you're".

EducationState Sat 29-Dec-12 16:51:17

Firstly, free schools aren't free as normally understood. They are free from local authority control but not central government. Secondly, the pitfalls are that local authorities provide pooled services that free schools may not be best placed to. This means that if you're child has a learning difference or difficulty (e.g. dyslexia), for example, the new free school may not be able to provide adequate support. Thirdly, it is worth investigating who runs the free schools that you're interested in as many are run by religious organisations with a particular world-view or run by people with a particular take on education that does not fit with current thinking in education research. Fourthly, free schools can set their own salaries and where this has been the case in the US, teachers' salaries have been known to fall and this has been linked with a higher turnover of staff and more experienced staff moving on. Lastly, the evidence from the US is that similar 'charter' schools have a positive impact on the academic performance of children from poor or ESL backgrounds but have either no or even negative impact on other children.
Hope this information helps in some way.

tutankarmen Fri 28-Dec-12 12:52:53

Hello. I'm just dipping my toe into the water of thinking about primary schools. I am worried about the choices available in my area. I am considering finding out about free schools, does anyone send their kids to one? What are the pitfalls? Is it good to send child to school that isn't regulated?

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