Free Schools and disadvantaged children: the data

November 14, 2011

 Proportion of pupils on Free Schools Meals a little over half national average

  • 9.4% of children in free schools entitled to free school meals
  • Canary Wharf College has just 2% on FSM compared with local average of 48%
  • Five schools have no children entitled to Free School Meals

392 children entitled to free school meals (FSM) are attending the first wave of free schools, according to data supplied under a Freedom of Information Act request by the 24 schools. The data shows that in these schools about one in ten of the children on roll were registered for free school meals in October 2011. Nationally, 16.7% of children are entitled to claim free school meals because their household income is below £16,000.

More significantly, when the data for individual schools is compared with that of their nearest five schools with the same age range all but two of the free schools are below average (the exceptions are Stour Valley Free School which has 9.1% FSM, compared with 7.7% in the nearest 5 schools with data, and King’s Science Academy in Bradford which has 24.8% compared with a local average of 22.2%). Three – Ark Atwood Primary in Westminster, the Free School Norwich and King’s Science Academy – have above their local authority average for FSM.

When the schools opened in September, research by the Guardian suggested that they were being mainly established in wealthier areas. The Department for Education (DfE) disputed this and claimed half of the schools are in the 30% most deprived communities in England. The new data shows conclusively that on average the schools are sited in more deprived areas but more importantly, they are not taking a fair proportion of more deprived children. Data from the schools nearest to where free schools have been established shows that on average, a quarter of children in the schools near free schools are entitled to free school meals. But with just one in 10 children at free schools entitled to FSM, in most cases the children attending the school are not characteristic of the community in which it is located.

The DfE claimed that many of the schools had been set up “to support the very poorest pupils who live in communities where results and aspiration have been low for generations”. The data published today (table 1) shows this has not happened because in many cases these children are not attending the new free schools.

Special Educational Needs

We also asked schools to state the number of children they have in school who are listed as having special educational needs, this will include children with and without statements. These figures are less secure because as some schools pointed out, identifying children with SEN is an ongoing process and in new primary schools it may take some time before the numbers are settled. Nishkam Primary School, for example, has just 4 pupils on school action for SEN but another five are being assessed. [Update: I am informed by Toby Young that the data for West London Free School, as supplied by the school, contains an error.  I was informed that there are no children with SEN, it turns out this figure refers to children with statements, but I have not been given a revised figure for overall SEN.]

The data shows that the proportion of children identified as having SEN in free schools at 11.2% is half the average rate at their nearest schools (table 2). While in 20 of the 24 new free schools providing data there is a below average proportion of children with SEN, some schools do appear to be extending their care to these children. At Woodpecker Hall Primary School in Enfield, for example, more than four in 10 children have special educational needs and at the Rainbow Free School in Bradford 28.9% of children have been identified as having SEN. In both these cases, the proportion is above the local average.

Teacher:pupil ratios

Many free schools have marketed themselves by promising to offer small classes. Data supplied by the schools (Table 3) shows that on average, free schools in the primary phase have a pupil:teacher (QTS) ratio of 16:1 and the seven secondary or all phase schools on the list average 13:1. When each free school was compared to its 5 nearest schools in the same phase, most of the schools had a ratio at or below the average. However, there is a wide variation in the figures, and we would expect those with very low ratios to see increases as their pupil numbers rise. All Saints Junior School in Reading and St Luke’s CofE in Camden have the lowest ratios for primaries but are tiny schools. Neither of them has any children on free school meals.

Free schools are allowed to employ unqualified teachers and we also asked the schools about the number of unqualified staff they employed. Unqualified teachers have been employed by 11 schools, but in almost all cases this was because the teachers were in their NQT year and were on their way to achieving fully qualified status. There are two exceptions to this: Moorlands Free School – previously an independent prep school – employs two PE teachers who do not hold QTS; The Discovery Free School is a Montessori school and employs teachers who do not hold QTS but hold Montessori qualifications. In both cases, this has an effect on the pupil:QTS teacher ratio in the table.

Are free schools “revolutionising education”?

In a combative article in the Daily Telegraph, David Cameron claimed that he knows free schools work because he has seen them for himself. He hailed them as “the shock troops of innovation” in our complacent education system.  By an order of magnitude, such claims overstate the position. We cannot know how well these schools will perform until we see some results. What is really different about free schools? So far, all we know is that generous start-up funding has allowed some to have very small classes and that most have below average numbers of disadvantaged children. When we do see some results from these schools, we will have to keep in mind that they do differ from their neighbouring institutions – not necessarily because they are particularly innovative, but because their intakes do not reflect their communities.

The lesson Mr Cameron and Mr Gove should take from the intakes of this first wave of schools is that they will have to try harder to ensure that their expensive free school project really does fill the gaps in our education system. If the data presented here is not going to show a substantial improvement when the second tranche of approximately 60 schools opens in September 2012, they should consider some tighter guidelines for the approval of free school projects. They should be restricted to areas of genuine place shortage – that means distinguishing between “need” and “want”. In addition, priority should be given to free school projects that commit to using their new admission freedoms to guarantee places for disadvantaged children.

[This post has been updated following the late arrival of data from King's Science Academy and to reflect revised data from Woodpecker Primary School]

Table 1

Free School Local Authority (FSM %) (1)

No. of pupils (2)

FSM % (2)

Local ave. FSM % (3)

Aldborough E-ACT Free School Redbridge (20.1%)

120

18.3%

19.8%

All Saints Junior School Reading (21.5%)

16

0.0%

21.8%

ARK Atwood Primary Academy Westminster (38.6%)

55

41.8%

46.2%

ARK Conway Primary Academy Hammersmith and Fulham (40.3%)

30

13.3%

45.7%

Batley Grammar School Kirklees (15.2%)

577

4.3%

19.1%

Bristol Free School City of Bristol (23.3%)

80

10.0%

14.9%

Canary Wharf College Tower Hamlets (47.5%)

60

1.7%

48.2%

Discovery Free School West Sussex (8.8%)

48

8.3%

16.8%

Eden Primary School Haringey (31.7%)

30

0.0%

10.6%

Etz Chaim Jewish Primary School Barnet (21.6%)

48

0.0%

18.3%

King’s Science Academy Bradford (23.3%)  137  24.8%

22.2%

Krishna-Avanti Primary School Leicester (25.6%)

146

9.6%

19.9%

Langley Hall Primary Academy Slough (18.8%)

182

7.7%

16.9%

Maharishi Academy Lancashire (15.5%)

134

8.2%

18.9%

Moorlands Free School Luton (21.5%)

275

20.0%

23.1%

Nishkam Primary School Birmingham (34.5%)

177

9.0%

47.1%

Priors Free School Warwickshire (12.6%)

43

0.0%

2.8%

Rainbow Primary School Bradford (23.1%)

38

21.1%

29.5%

St Lukes CofE Primary School Camden (40.8%)

15

0.0%

35.3%

Sandbach School Cheshire East (9.3%)

1255

6.2%

15.3%

Stour Valley Community School Suffolk (10%)

176

9.1%

7.7%

The Free School Norwich Norfolk (16%)

96

18.8%

24.6%

West London Free School Hammersmith and Fulham (34%)

120

23.3%

32.2%

Woodpecker Hall Primary School Enfield (30.5%)

90

25.0%

39.6%

Average (4)

10.0%

24.9%

Notes:
1 Local Authority FSM%: for the phase (primary or secondary) of the free school. The Maharishi Academy covers both phases so this is the LA overall average. Data from Statistical Release SFR 12/2011.
2 These figures supplied by the schools.
3 Using the location postcode and the DfE Compare Schools tool, this is calculated from the nearest five schools in the same phase that have data available.4 Average FSM is the overall pupil-weighted average, not the average of the school figures.
Table 2
Free School Local Authority (SEN %) (1)

No of pupils (2)

SEN % (2)

Local ave. SEN % (3)

Aldborough E-ACT Free School Redbridge (16.6%)

120

1.7%

18.8%

All Saints Junior School Reading (21%)

16

0.0%

17.9%

ARK Atwood Primary Academy Westminster (22.6%)

55

27.3%

23.3%

ARK Conway Primary Academy Hammersmith and Fulham (25.4%)

30

0.0%

39.0%

Batley Grammar School Kirklees (21.1%)

577

4.9%

28.4%

Bristol Free School City of Bristol (21.8%)

80

7.5%

17.9%

Canary Wharf College Tower Hamlets (20.8%)

60

8.3%

20.1%

Discovery Free School West Sussex (19.7%)

48

27.1%

28.0%

Eden Primary School Haringey (22.3%)

30

0.0%

17.5%

Etz Chaim Jewish Primary School Barnet (22.5%)

48

12.5%

20.9%

King’s Science Academy Bradford (25.8%)  137  2.2%

30.6%

Krishna-Avanti Primary School Leicester (19.5%)

146

2.1%

15.9%

Langley Hall Primary Academy Slough (20.2%)

182

15.4%

21.4%

Maharishi Academy Lancashire (17.9%)

134

9.0%

19.0%

Moorlands Free School Luton (21.8%)

275

22.2%

28.4%

Nishkam Primary School Birmingham (22%)

177

2.3%

28.0%

Priors Free School Warwickshire (18.1%)

43

14.0%

21.1%

Rainbow Primary School Bradford (20%)

38

28.9%

26.7%

St Lukes CofE Primary School Camden (21.9%)

15

13.3%

22.7%

Sandbach School Cheshire East (14.9%)

1255

11.1%

18.0%

Stour Valley Community School Suffolk (19.8%)

176

25.6%

18.6%

The Free School Norwich Norfolk (22.7%)

96

13.5%

28.2%

West London Free School Hammersmith and Fulham (24.6%)

120

??

26.1%

Woodpecker Hall Primary School Enfield (20.7%)

90

43.3%

26.8%

Average (4)

11.2%

23.5%

Notes:
1 Local Authority SEN %: for the phase (primary or secondary) of the free school. The Maharishi Academy covers both phases so this is the LA overall average. Data from SFR 14/2011.
2 These figures supplied by the schools.
3 Using the location postcode and the DfE Compare Schools tool, this is calculated from the nearest five schools in the same phase that have data available.4 Average SEN is the overall pupil-weighted average, not the average of the school figures.

Table 3

Free School Phase

No. of pupils (1)

No. of QTS (1)

No. non-QTS teachers (1)

Pupil: QTS ratio

Local Pupil:QTS ratio(2)

Aldborough E-ACT Free School Primary

120

6

0

20:1

22:1

All Saints Junior School Primary

16

2

0

8:1

21:1

ARK Atwood Primary Academy Primary

55

4

0

14:1

20:1

ARK Conway Primary Academy Primary

30

3

0

10:1

21:1

Batley Grammar School Secondary

577

38

1

15:1

15:1

Bristol Free School Secondary

80

8

4

10:1

15:1

Canary Wharf College Primary

60

4

0

15:1

21:1

Discovery Free School Primary

48

1.2

2

40:1

20:1

Eden Primary School Primary

30

2.6

0

12:1

22:1

Etz Chaim Jewish Primary School Primary

48

3

1

16:1

20:1

King’s Science Academy Secondary  137  15  2  9:1

15:1

Krishna-Avanti Primary School Primary

146

6

0

24:1

22:1

Langley Hall Primary Academy Primary

182

9.4

0

19:1

23:1

Maharishi Academy All phase

134

8

0.5

17:1

15:1

Moorlands Free School Primary

275

14

2

20:1

22:1

Nishkam Primary School Primary  177  10  0  18:1

19:1

Priors Free School Primary

43

4

0

11:1

19:1

Rainbow Primary School Primary

38

2

0

19:1

21:1

St Lukes CofE Primary School Primary

15

1.6

0

9:1

21:1

Sandbach School Secondary

1255

71.7

2.2

18:1

16:1

Stour Valley Community School Secondary

176

17

4

10:1

14:1

The Free School Norwich Primary

96

5

0

19:1

22:1

West London Free School Secondary

120

8.74

0.35

14:1

15:1

Woodpecker Hall Primary School Primary

90

4.2

1

21:1

21:1

Notes
1 Data supplied by the schools. In most cases, unqualified teachers are in their NQT year.
2 Using the location postcode and the DfE Compare Schools tool, this is calculated from the nearest five schools in the same phase that have data available.


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60 Responses to “Free Schools and disadvantaged children: the data”


  1. Bloody hell, there are some big questions for the free school backers to answer here.
    If the schools are situated in deprived areas on the whole, how far do their catchment areas extend?
    Where are the kids at Toby Young’s free school coming from for example? The White City estate? Or is it rather leafy West Molesey, the posher bits of SW6, and Kingston?

  2. Toby Young Says:

    This is utter balls. We haven’t received an FIO request asking about the percentage of our children on FSM and if we had we wouldn’t be able to comply because we’re still waiting for the local authorities where our pupils are resident to provide the date. But the figure you have for us is almost certainly an under-estimate.

    As for your claim that the WLFS has no pupils with Special Educational Needs, that’s a flat out lie. We estimate it’s between 10 and 15%. You claim we reported it was zero in response to an FOI request from you – another lie.

    If you have to resort to these lies to discredit the free schools policy, you’ve lost the argument.

    • schoolduggery Says:

      Toby,
      I think you should withdraw your allegation that this is a lie. Here is the email response I received from WLFS. If it is incorrect I am happy to correct it.

      Reply
      Sarah Noel s.noel@wlfs.org to rachel
      show details 1 Nov (13 days ago)
      Dear Ms Gooch

      Further to your email of 7th October, herewith the answers to your questions:

      The no. of pupils on roll is 120.
      The no. of pupils registered for Free School Meals is 28.
      The no. of pupils with Special Educational Needs is Nil.
      The no. of teachers with Qualified Teacher Status is 8.74, including the Headteacher.
      The no. of teachers without QTS is 0.35.

      Should you have any further queries, please do not hesitate to contact me.

      Thank you for your interest in our school. I would be grateful if you could let us know why you wish to receive this information.

      With best wishes

      Sarah Noel
      PA to the Headmaster and Deputy Headmaster

      E&OE

  3. Toby Young Says:

    This is utter balls. We haven’t received an FOI request asking about the percentage of our children on FSM and if we had we wouldn’t be able to comply because we’re still waiting for the local authorities where our pupils are resident to provide the date. But the figure you have for us is almost certainly an under-estimate.

    As for your claim that the WLFS has no pupils with Special Educational Needs, that’s a flat out lie. We estimate it’s between 10 and 15%. You claim we reported it was zero in response to an FOI request from you – another lie.

    If you have to resort to these lies to discredit the free schools policy, you’ve lost the argument.


  4. To call someone a liar because you’re scrabbling to cover up how little you know about your own school is shameful Mr Young.


  5. This is sickening but not surprising

  6. Toby Young Says:

    Looks like a member of our administrative staff has replied to you. Apologies for accusing you of lying. Nevertheless, the data is inaccurate.

    28 is the number of parents self-reporting as having children eligible for FSM – not the same as the actual number, as I’m sure you’re aware, because some parents don’t claim the entitlement, either through ignorance or embarrassment.

    The administrative assistant must have interpreted your request for SEN data as wanting to know how many children at the school had statements of Special Educational Needs. The answer to that is zero, but that’s a very different question to the number of children at the school with Special Educational Needs. I note that that’s what you’re referring to in the left-hand column of the penultimate table, not the number of statemented children so you’re not comparing like with like. As I say, we estimate the number of children on FSM is >25% and the number with SEN as 10%-15%. Below the borough average, but you’d expect that for a school with only 120 children, i.e. too small to finance extensive special provision, and with no dedicated SENCO (can’t afford one in Year 1).

    • schoolduggery Says:

      Toby, everyone’s FSM figure is what is self-reported so the comparison is valid.
      I note that you have no children with statements and I look forward to you giving me the accurate figures.

      Most schools don’t have extensive special provision, Toby, and all will have a designated SENCo. I think your comments prove my point – that with honourable exceptions, free schools are not catering well for disadvantaged children.

      And thank you for the apology.

      • Toby Young Says:

        Not every school’s FSM figure is self-reported. Most will base it on a combination of self-reporting and Local Authority data. Some parents will be claiming benefits they’re entitled to in virtue of being on low incomes, but not claiming free school meals for their children for fear they might be stigmatized. That’s a well-documented phenomenon. Since all of the 24 free schools are in the same boat as us, i.e. without the systems in place to facilitate transfer of Local Authority data, most of those who complied with your FOI request will be under-reporting.

        I didn’t say we don’t have a designated SENCo – we do – just not a dedicated one, i.e. a member of staff who does that and nothing else. Our designated SENco is also our Head of English. Nothing remotely unusual about that for a start-up school with only one year group.

        I think the reason the overall percentage of children on free school meals at the first 24 free schools is below the national average (assuming your figures are accurate) is because the schools are perceived to be above average and middle class parents are generally more energetic about trying to secure the best possible opportunities for their children than parents on low incomes. You’ll find that nearly all above average state schools have a below average percentage of children on free school meals, whether faith schools, city technical colleges, grammar schools or academies. Indeed, that’s one of the main reasons Fiona Millar et al object to a diversity of provision.

        Until now, there hasn’t been much these schools can do about it since it’s against the School Admissions Code to discriminate against pushy parents. If these schools did try and discriminate against them, they’d just get in on appeal – and pushy parents are more likely to appeal that parents on low incomes.

        However, from 2013 onwards, free schools and academies will be able to give priority to children on free school meals in their admissions arrangements and I imagine most of them will, if only because you get nearly 50% more in your annual revenue budget for a child on FSM than for a child that isn’t. (That isn’t just the pupil premium, there are other sources of extra funding for FSM pupils, too.) In our case, I think 25% is about right, but if the percentage on free school meals drops below that I’ll certainly ask the governors and the headmaster to consider imposing a 25% quota.

      • schoolduggery Says:

        Toby, as far as I am aware. and I’m sure someone here can help me out if I’m wrong, the only way to be eligible for FSM is to fill in the form to apply for them. Applications have to be validated by the LA, but the LA doesn’t know who is eligible until they apply.

        As I argue in my post, I would like to see all free schools committing themselves to giving priority in admissions to children on FSM. I think your threshold of 25% is too low given that one of your nearest 5 state secondary schools has almost 60% of its intake on FSM. One way of demonstrating to parents that your perceived “above average” school is open to all is to put it firmly in the admissions criteria.

  7. Bob Harrison Says:

    Seems like you have lost the argument Toby?

    “Cant afford a dedicated SENCO in year 1″

    Lost the plot too perhaps!

  8. Chris Gravell Says:

    I though all publicly funded schools were meant to make the usual provision for SEN that maintained mainstream schools do, including having a SENCo, however small they are. Does WLFS’s funding agreement not require it to behave as tho it is a maintained school in this respect? Doesn’t it have to follow the SEN Code of Practice? Off to DfE FOI page to check …

    • Chris Gravell Says:

      OK, WLFS funding agreement not yet published, but the model agreement on which it must have been based requires the governors of the school to comply with all the duties imposed by SEN law on maintained schools, and that includes a requirement to ‘designate a member of the staff at the school (to be known as the “special educational needs co-ordinator”) as having responsibility for co-ordinating the provision for pupils with special educational needs’, and ensuring that that person is qualified and trained (EA 1996 s317(3A) and the Education (SENCo) Regs 2008, as amended. Is it breach of its contract with the Secretary of State?

  9. bootleian Says:

    Also makes you wonder if WLFS is DDA compliant . And if they “can’t afford a SENCO in year 1″ how on earth was the proposal accepted? Oh. sorry, just answered my own question…

  10. Dan Says:

    Toby Toby Toby…. oh dear oh dear. Jumped off the deep end and managed to get both feet in your mouth.

    With regards to FSM, statistacal data for FSM is always dirived from claiming pupils as this is the only hard data availble. Any guesses at percentages of eligability can never be accurate.

    With regards to SEN – I would question your understanding of a schools responsibilities on SEN. When you say you don’t have a ‘dedicated SENco’ I presume you mean a member of staff hired solely as a SENco? If that’s the case, who but the most affluent or largest schools can afford to hire one?
    Our school is only slightly larger than yours and we do as (I would imagine) most other schools do. One of our teaching staff takes on the responsibility as SENco along with her role as a full time teacher, and whilst she is isn’t a ‘dedicated SENco’ she is still able to collate and report accuate data on SEN. It’s quite scary that you haven’t got a clue how many SEN children you have, and are merely guessing at percentages.

    All you have managed to do is confirm my concerns about ‘free schools’.

    • Toby Young Says:

      Yes, that’s exactly what we do at our school, too.

      When you say “collate and report accurate data on SEN” what you mean is “pull it out of her navel”, right? There is no scientific method of measuring the percentage of children with SEN. Generally speaking, all SENCos exaggerate it, both to justify their existence and to make their schools look good for achieving so much in spite of the percentage of children with SEN. It may be that free schools haven’t yet grown wise to this trick – or are just more honest.

      • Dan Says:

        Sorry, but that is ridiculous and it just highlights your obvious lack of understanding of SEN. Even if your SEN levels are lower than average, the fact you can’t even be specific about your SEN percentages and need to make stabs in the dark speaks volumes for itself.

        I’m the SEN Governor (and Chair) and work closely with the SENco, and I can most certainly assure you that there is no navel pulling or over inflating figures. We have solid, tracked data, showing all children who have an additional need (i.e. falls into a vulnerable category) or is highlighted through assessment. We ensure no child falls through the net and receives all the support they need to ensure fair access.

        Doing it all to justify her existence!! don’t make me laugh. Your ignorance is astounding.

  11. fred rex Says:

    Really confused as to what is above average. Are schools in leafy areas with higher results above average but those in deprived areas that make more progress with their pupils below average?

  12. Chris Gravell Says:

    Well, there is supposed to be a national legal framework for meeting the needs of children with SEN, with national statutory guidance (the SEN Code of Practice) to help schools establish which children should be on School Action, School Action Plus, or (where they need more provision than the school can provide) statemented. SENCos use approved methods to track children’s progress, alongside the strategies and resources being tried, and report this to their school and parents. Perhaps a look at the SEN stages in the Code would help? It’s what the school is obliged to have regard to according to its funding agreement.


  13. Really confused as to what Young thinks is above average. Are schools in leafy areas with higher results above average but those in deprived areas that make more progress with their pupils below average?


  14. Game, set and match to Schoolduggery


  15. This is really important research/informationw and emphasizes what a lot of people have been saying for a long time that the free schools policy is about social segregation; separating poor children off from their wealthier counter-parts. This already happens to a certain extent, but this disastrous policy is only going to make things far worse in the affected areas, and is already happening to a chronic degree in my own area of Tower Hamlets, with Canary Wharf College. I wrote about this in the New Statesman in June 2011: http://www.newstatesman.com/education/2011/05/free-schools-children-policy

    • Toby Young Says:

      Come on Francis. You know as well as I do that the reason there are a below average number of children on free school meals at the first 24 free schools is because a below average number of parents on low incomes applied to them. And that’s not because the schools actively do anything to discourage applicants from low income families; it’s because parents on low incomes are less likely to take advantage of the choices available to them and just plump for the nearest school as the crow flies. Indeed, this is the basis of Fiona Millar and Melissa Benn’s argument against a diversity of taxpayer-funded provision. It’s not that the above-average schools discriminate against applicants from low income families. It’s that the very existence of choice favours the better off since parents on low incomes are less likely to weigh up the different choices and exploit whatever opportunities are available to them. Doesn’t just apply to schools. Applies to increased choice in public services across the board. It was Gordon Brown’s reason for obstructing Tony Blair’s public service reforms.

      I think this is a genuine problem, but the solution is not to eliminate choice altogether, but to make sure parents on low incomes are properly informed about the choices available to them. That’s what we did in Hammersmith and Fulham and it’s the reason the WLFS tops the above table when it comes to the percentage of pupils on FSM.


  16. As a Head I can confirm that the ONLY figure the LA take into account in terms of FSM is the self-reported one – i.e. they MUST fill in the form and apply, otherwise they do not get counted – why would I have received an email TODAY from the DfE giving me an example letter to encourage parents to apply if eligible so we can claim the right level of the pupil premium. I think Toby might need to clarify his position in the light of his friends in high places advice!


  17. Very useful set of data – I’ve pulled it into a spreadsheet here if that’s helpful to anyone: http://schoolduggery.wordpress.com/2011/11/14/free-schools-and-disadvantaged-children-the-data/

    Will also publish a link on Help Me Investigate Education tomorrow. If we can help in any way, let me know

  18. rosejeffmo Says:

    First, many thanks to schoolduggery for pulling this information together. Fantastic piece of work.

    I heard Toby Young speaking on “any questions” and it simply made my blood boil. He, like many parents, is desperate to get a good education for their children, and has a very real fear of the discipline problems in many comprehensive schools. Too many teachers are spending too much time having to deal with “disruptive” children in classrooms rather than teaching. Similarly, teachers are having to deal with highly mixed ability classes and having to focus on the lowest common denominator teaching. Both my children suffered from both of these problems at the local “ok” comprehensive school.

    The only different things I suspect, and has been shown in this post, that 90% of free schools will offer is fewer discipline problems and fewer children with special needs, making a far easier environment for teachers to teach in, just like the private schools. Their teachers may also be considerably less stressed and there may be a short-term performance boost that all new organisations tend to have in the first few years until things become routinised and the early hope fades.

    Toby wants to prove that his school is better than the local comprehensive – there is a way of doing it, though difficult to do in practice. He should not advertise enrolment for his school separately, they should just take a random segment of the pupils allocated to a local comprehensive. This will avoid any selection bias and he will be able to show for real, after the initial performance boost, how good his school is. Obviously parental choice goes out the window but seeing as this is a fantasy for most parents that really doesn’t matter. Hard to see how else there will be a fair comparison.


  19. What a catastrophic embarrassment for Toby Young – and indeed the whole Free School policy. @schoolduggery is to be hugely commended for this blog.

    It’s never a good idea for a school leader – Chair of Governors in Toby Young’s case – to go on the verbal rampage, especially when he is wrong about education and his own school. This is hardly setting a good example to the children in his school, some of whom might see this behaviour as much more unacceptable than a too short hair cut.

    To accuse @schoolduggery of being a “liar” is pretty serious. I’m not sure that I have ever read anyone levelling the same accusation at Mr. Young, although they may have been sorely tempted to.

    Given this apparent attempt at covering up some unpalatable truths about WLFS it is high time that Toby Young offered up some transparency on his dealings with the DfE by PUBLISHING THEIR FUNDING AGREEMENT.

  20. Will Says:

    If you want to do the figures properly then you need to exclude the pupils who did not join these schools in the current academic year. The figures are heavily skewed by 2 schools that make up almost half of all pupils.

    As the vast majority of the pupils at these schools joined at a time when they were fee-paying the figures for FSM and SEN are naturally low.

    Toby is quite right in saying that SEN figures are often grossly exaggerated. I know of many schools that have put pupils on school action for the flimsiest of reasons purely to boost their CVA score. Thankfully something Gove has put a stop to.

    Toby is also right in saying that free schools cannot prevent pushy parents from taking the lions share of ‘desirable’ school places.

    • schoolduggery Says:

      Which 2 schools? The fee-paying school were Moorlands, Priors and Batley. Sandbach (if that is what you mean) was fully LA funded.

      • Will Says:

        OK, my mistake. Even so the pupils admitted before this academic year have nothing to do with the free schools initiative.

        Sandbach still skews the figures very heavily due to the large size of the school compared to the rest of the sample (practically a third of all pupils). It isn’t fair to distort the figures in this way. If as a LA funded school it had such a low proportion of FSM students then how can you blame this is on free schools?

        Is the Cheshire East LA to blame for allowing this school to admit such low numbers of FSM students while it was under their control?

      • schoolduggery Says:

        I do not blame the schools for this situation. You may think me a woolly-minded liberal if I suggest that blame is not a helpful idea when looking at the outcomes of a policy. The Sandbach case is interesting, but only skews the data when looking at the overall average, and that may be a nice headline but is not the real focus of this article. Sandbach is actually much closer to its LA and local averages than several other schools on the list. In presenting the full data here, I am shining a light on the extent to which the policy objectives of the free schools policy have been achieved. Does this data suggest that free schools are going to raise attainment among our poorest children? And the answer is that, with a couple of notable exceptions, at this stage it looks unlikely that this first tranche of schools is well-targeted. By looking carefully at the data, we can suggest ways that the policy should develop to improve its focus. From what I am told about the second tranche, it should improve next year. However, when resources are so limited, I think more transparent safeguards should be in place to ensure that free schools meet real needs in areas of genuine place shortage and truly serve the most disadvantaged children. As I said, free schools determined by need not want.

      • Will Says:

        If the overall picture which is heavily skewed by Sandbach is not the main focus then perhaps you could reword your article slightly. You mention the overall figures 3 times before the end of the first paragraph.

        Many of the schools are quite similar to the surrounding areas, there are a number of exceptions like Canary Wharf. I agree that these major differences are quite disturbing.

        I would suggest that for the faith schools, the difference in FSM rates may be in part due to cultural differences. Additionally, evidence shows that for most minority groups FSM has a far smaller effect than for white British pupils.

        As Toby says the real problem is that you cannot force the FSM parents to apply. Sadly many of these parents do not actively exercise their rights. Others may have been put off by negative articles in the left-wing press. By suggesting that free schools are designed for middle class children only, these newspapers may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  21. julie Says:

    Erm I a missing something here? Toby says ” It’s that the very existence of choice favours the better off since parents on low incomes are less likely to weigh up the different choices and exploit whatever opportunities are available to them.” So why are my tax bucks being spent on giving the affluent more choice? I would rather it spent on improving the schools we have.

  22. Andy Says:

    The current system for free schools, and those supporting them, has been seen through, they’ve lost the “argument”.

    If as one exponent says, the % eligible for Free School Meals is higher, but unclaimed, then this will apply to the national figures, still leaving a discrepancy between those, and the Free School intakes.

    To suggest that poorer families not applying is the reason, is probably not accurate, and is simplistic. For Bristol Free School, having messed up their plans and everyone else’s for local education, their site ended up being in a poorer area, but their “catchment” is not around the school – it encompasses a more prosperous area. Would you send your child to a school if it appeared to be discriminating against him/her even before they joined ?

    Whilst we are wasting hot air on this “argument”, children are in desperate need of help, Free Schools might be a good idea if properly implemented. Right now, they are a luxury that we can’t afford. They were extremely poorly implemented – things were a shambles, and aimed at proving a political policy, not helping kids.

    Let’s not waste time endlessly backing our points – how about working out how we can really help young people. There are schools in some of the poorest areas that could do with that Free School cash, and they would use it well. Surely all children deserve a good education.

  23. Rick Says:

    It seems to me there are a lot of problems with the presentation of these figures:

    1. The sample size is too small.
    2. The figures are probably skewed by the inclusion of former independent schools that have switched to the State sector via the Free Schools process. (if you have included these, then they probably account for a huge chunk of your sample as these schools tend to be ‘full’, while other free schools only have one year established.)
    3. Comparing individual schools (whether primary or secondary) to borough or national averages is meaningless. A more valid comparison would be with the closest three schools of a similar type.
    4. These free schools have only been open for a couple of months and it is unlikely that valid estimates on SEN requirements can yet be made. However, Toby Young should perhaps be able to say how many were on school action plus etc at their former primaries, and be able to give a picture of how many failed to reach level 4 at primary.

    On a broader theme – there would seem to be little point in developing a set of new schools that simply recreated the problems of ‘sink’ comprehensives by having the same concentration of students from economically challenging backgrounds. Don’t we want free schools to begin the process of making our schools more socially balanced and inclusive – by educating middle class kids and poorer kids together. OECD says that works better than the current social ghetto system.

    Well, if that is what we want – we shouldn’t complain that new schools have a lower concentration of FSM.

    • schoolduggery Says:

      A quick response:
      1. This isn’t a sample, it is the whole dataset (except for one school).
      2. There are three schools that were fee-paying schools before conversion: Moorlands, Batley and Priors. Taking them out makes almost no difference to the data, mainly because Moorlands has a surprisingly high FSM. Sandbach is often assumed to have been a fee-paying school, but was actually fully funded by the LA.
      3. My main comparison was with the nearest 5 schools as you will see from the blog and the table
      4. I acknowledge the issue with identifying SEN in the blog.

      • Rick Says:

        This isn’t a sample, it is the whole dataset

        Yes, but the number is still so small and the variety of schools in the basked so wide that it makes generalizations otiose.

        A Sikh primary school in Handsworth, a community school in Suffolk replacing a closed middle school, an all through school in Canary Wharf, a tiny primary in the school hall of a CofE church in North London, an innovative primary school in Norwich aimed at parents who commute into the city from rural areas……… these are all so different from one another….and so specific (in some cases) to local need as not to be comparable with the generality of schools. When you have ten or twelve inner-city 11-18 secondaries up and running under the free school system…. then there might be meaningful comparisons to be made.

      • schoolduggery Says:

        You may have an argument that adding them all up and coming to a general average is not very helpful, and I sort of agree, although if I hadn’t done that calculation, others would have done so. But I see no reason not to compare each school with its neighbours. All schools are different – we compare VA schools, selective schools, sponsored academies, academy converters, community schools etc all the time. Free schools are just a new variant to put into that mix and the sooner we learn lessons from this first tranche the sooner we can target the policy better.


  24. [...] taking only half the proportion of deprived pupils compared with other state schools in England, data revealed under the Freedom of Information Act [...]


  25. [...] based on data obtained from a FOI request sent by primary school governor Rachel Gooch, who had blogged about the results she found. Gooch compared the intake of disadvantaged children at each of the free [...]

  26. Andy Says:

    To me it is entirely legitimate to draw conclusions based on data from the 24 open Free Schools. Any Govt or organisation will be quick to highlight successes, so to raise concerns in a balanced way seems reasonable.

    I really hope the discussion doesn’t become too polarised. My reason for commenting is my concern about those children most in need. We made a Free School application that met the urgent needs of local children (including > 35 % SEN), and did not compromise resources of existing schools by duplicating secondary places. It was turned down in favour of a Gove-style FS that has displaced children and harmed other schools.

    This is the core of it. Free Schools may well be a good initiative once they recognise need before demand, and happen in cooperation with LA’s and the real local educational needs. At this stage to simply defend a poorly executed policy, and attempt to undermine legitimate statistics doesn’t seem constructive.

    In terms of whether SEN/FSM stats for these schools will increase, that may be the case. However many primary school children will already have their SEN needs identified. In the case of Bristol Free School, if it achieves more than 80 of its 150 capacity next September, it might be drawing more from its prosperous, displaced catchment than it is this year, when they have accepted students from almost any location to try to make up the numbers. This would mean that the FSM (and poss SEN) stats would decrease.

    Let’s hope things move forward in a more considered, competent way.

    • schoolduggery Says:

      “Free Schools may well be a good initiative once they recognise need before demand, and happen in cooperation with LA’s and the real local educational needs.” Couldn’t agree more, Andy.

  27. Will Says:

    Another point I would like to bring up is that I suspect you would see a similar picture if you looked at schools judged outstanding and then the 5 nearest schools to them. That, in general, the outstanding schools will have fewer FSM and SEN kids.

    Now I’m not suggesting that all free schools are going be oustanding, but simply that the perception of parents plays the most significant role. Pushy middle class parents make assumptions about schools (rightly or wrongly) and very quickly jump on the bandwagon pushing others out of the way.

    I’d love to see a fairer admissions process, but even with good intentions it is pretty tricky as these pushy parents tend to be both resourceful and cunning.

    • schoolduggery Says:

      Using the new admissions freedoms to give priority to children on FSM as I suggest would do two things: actually give disadvantaged children a better chance of getting in and, more importantly, send the message to these families that they are invited to apply. You can’t force these families to apply, but you can make it much clearer that it is to them that the school is turning to them to find its next intake.


  28. [...] with other state schools in England, data revealed under the Freedom of Information Act [...]


  29. [...] SchoolDuggery has published some data on free school meals: “We estimate that fewer than 400 children entitled to free school meals (FSM) are attending the first wave of free schools, according to data supplied under a Freedom of Information Act request by 23* of the 24 schools. The data shows that in these 23 schools just 9.4% of the 3811 children on roll were registered for free school meals in October 2011. Nationally, 16.7% of children are entitled to claim free school meals because their household income is below £16,000. ” [...]

  30. Guy The Mac Says:

    It’s an interesting debate and certainly worth watching the figures – I don’t think it is surprising that the more aspirational parents in these areas are the first ones to ‘go for it’, and those are the ones likely to be working and not on FSM.

    The real test will be in a few years time when a generation has gone through and exams are being taken:

    a) Are the schools outperforming other local schools
    b) Of those that are, are the FSM children area represented fairly at the least, or ideally – disproportionally.

    I would expect some free schools to fail, you wouldn’t want to push for b, till you have cracked and assured a.


  31. [...] taking only half the proportion of deprived pupils compared with other state schools in England, data revealed under the Freedom of Information Act [...]


  32. [...] School Duggery blog reports: 392 children entitled to free school meals (FSM) are attending the first wave of free [...]


  33. [...] taking only half the proportion of deprived pupils compared with other state schools in England, data revealed under the Freedom of Information Act [...]

  34. Free School Parent Says:

    I placed my child in one of the new free schools in London. To my dismay, the average classmate is well above average in terms of income despite the schools mission to serve the under-privileged.

    Worse still is my child is gifted and complains of sheer boredom as there is no challenge…even though after 5 meetings in the first term with the Head promised a better effort from the school.

    My first hand experience, unless there is some very good reason for choosing a specific free school, you are no better off than a local authority school.


  35. [...] from religious backgrounds or with other agendas. Channel 4 News pointed this out, as did blogger School Duggery and a number of LSN bloggers, including myself. Perhaps one can’t blame really the [...]

  36. Rosie Says:

    Thanks for the lamentable FSM info on Canary Wharf College…exactly what I expected from them.
    I think the point needs to be made that there are Free Schools and then there are Free Schools.

    Canary Wharf College with its founder headteacher and Founders Children admission clause ( in a school of 20 kids/year group where the average LA size is 28 ) is what BOTH anti and pro Free Schoolers should be decrying.

    • Rosie Says:

      In a recent Ministers Written Answer in Parliament Nick Gibb said that it was up to the Free School to decide whether a FSM meal was provided as a hot meal or a packed lunch.

      Given that

      a) LEA schools provide hot FSMs and
      b) the Channel 4 documentary on children in poverty identified that the FSM was the only hot nutritious food many FSM children had access to and holidays were a time of hunger.

      Isn’t this a bit sh*T?

  37. Rosie Says:

    I think Mr Young’s acknowledgement of the pushy parent effect certainly for the first year’s intake is valid.

    We should also remember that the pushy parent will happily over-ride child choice and peer influences to more of an extent than less pushy parents.

    Perhaps the local LEA primaries could review how they empower their pupils and parents to apply.

    NO stats on ” Cared for children” but surely this is again governed by the care authority (LEA ) and again strong peer pressure.

  38. Lina Says:

    Interesting to find that the Jan 2012 census shows Free Schools to have 8.6% FSM (335), much lower than the national average and even lower than your research first suggested…


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