Policy Exchange research into free schools

9 March 2015

Commenting on the Policy Exchange report, A Rising Tide: the competitive benefits of Free Schools, Christine Blower, General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, the largest teachers’ union, said:

“The NUT does not accept the conclusions of this report. The findings claimed by the authors are not supported by the ‘evidence’ presented in the report itself and the authors themselves admit that no link can be made between the cause and effects that they nevertheless seek to claim for the free school policy, stating: "It should be obvious – but bears setting out explicitly – that such data cannot demonstrate conclusively that any changes seen are as a response to the new Free School’.

‘The samples on which the authors base their recommendations are tiny as they admit in the report and can in no way be considered statistically robust.

‘Despite the spurious claims that free schools raise performance among lower performing schools that are closest to them, the authors are forced to concede that, “higher performing schools make less progress and the very highest drop back”.

‘It is worth noting, though not commented upon by the authors of this report, that over half of the primary free schools and just short of 30 per cent of the secondary free schools are in London where academic results and progress are much higher than the national average. Comparing the performance of the lowest performing nearest schools to the national average and then claiming that the presence of a free schools improves their performance fails to give a true picture of overall local performance. A real comparison would be the performance of similar local authority schools which, inexplicably, the report does not do in relation to lower performing schools.

‘The recommendations in the report include giving free schools the absolute first priority (ahead of NHS or housing) when disposing of public sector land in areas of so called “educational underperformance”. To be clear: this means giving away public land to build new schools in areas where there is not necessarily a need for new school places.

‘The one interesting fact revealed in this report is the changing composition of groups approved to open free schools this demonstrates very clearly what the NUT has said all along: that academy sponsors have come to dominate the sponsorship of free schools. This programme was never about creating a “parent led” school revolution but always about handing over public assets and the management of schools to unaccountable academy groups who, if the Conservatives have their way after the General Election, will be given free rein to profit from our education system.

‘The NUT maintains that the free school policy has diverted funds into a small number of schools and prevented Local Authorities opening schools where most needed. Free Schools do not raise standards. What does is teaching. Supporting teachers in developing their classroom practice through high quality CPD and more time to teach, rather than meet arbitrary Government targets, should be the aim of any Government, not introducing market forces into education”.

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