The ‘Free Schools’ vanity project has wasted millions when the government said there was no money to spare

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The Tory ‘Free Schools’ vanity project has been a complete disaster, with more than £51 million wasted on new schools that failed to meet inspectors’ standards or proposals for schools that were cancelled or withdrawn.

A report compiled by the Labour Party shows that £50m has been spent on free schools either declared inadequate by the education standards watchdog, Ofsted, or requiring improvement. A further £1.043m was spent on applications that were cancelled or withdrawn.

Of the 79 free schools opened in the first and second waves of the Michael Gove project, no less than one in three have been declared inadequate or requiring improvement by schools watchdog Ofsted. This compares with one in five schools overall – that’s including the institutions that ‘Free Schools’ were expected to outperform.

It is noteworthy that, according to shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, the number of “inadequate” schools is equal to the number employing, as teachers, people with no teaching qualifications – one in three.

Worse still, the government has been caught trying to “massage” the figures. The example provided to us by a report in The Independent shows that the Hartsbrook E-Act Free School in north London, declared inadequate by Ofsted, was given a new name and number. This means the school appears as closed, even though it is now operating under a different name (Brook House Primary School), with the same head teacher and pupils in the same location. The re-designation means it won’t be inspected again until four terms have passed.

That could be disastrous for pupils, who by then will have spent almost another quarter of their primary school career in an environment that has been declared substandard, simply to save the government from embarrassment.

It seems the pupils aren’t the only ones who need to learn how to grow up and act in a mature and responsible manner!

Overall, primary ‘Free Schools’ are underperforming in reading, writing and mathematics, in comparison with the rest of the state sector.

It gets worse: Of those free schools whose 2013 national-curriculum test results were published, all bar one underperformed compared with the rest in their local authority and the national average.

Is this the revolution announced so boldly in the Coalition Agreement?

“We … believe that the state should help parents, community groups and others come together to improve the education system by starting new schools,” it told us in 2010.

“We will promote the reform of schools in order to ensure that new providers can enter the state school system in response to parental demand; that all schools have greater freedom over the curriculum; and that all schools are held properly to account.

“We will give parents, teachers, charities and local communities the chance to set up new schools, as part of our plans to allow new providers to enter the state school system in response to parental demand.”

Which parents demanded this?

Free Schools also offered the opportunity to employ unqualified people as teachers. The Tory-run Education Department claimed this was a way of bringing in expertise that would not otherwise be available – now we know the facts.

‘Free Schools’ have been an expensive waste – not only of money, but of time and the potential of the school pupils they have failed.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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11 thoughts on “The ‘Free Schools’ vanity project has wasted millions when the government said there was no money to spare

  1. Bill Kruse

    I’ve read title to the land these schools stand on was passed to Tory business chums. That seems to have been the point of it all. It’s worth a lot!

    1. David K.

      Free schools occupy a relatively small area of land. Far more serious is the threat to public ownership presented by the Tories’ academy schools programme. When a school has academy status forced upon it, the Secretary of State for education takes away the deeds to the real estate, and can just give them away to whomsoever he/she wants to. Currently over half of schools in England have academy status. The Tories are stealing all our schools.

  2. casalealex

    There you go then! Nothing to do with a decent education for our kids. Just another failed ‘government’ ideological gambit, at the expense, as usual, of the inveterate taxpayers!

  3. joanna may

    Watch out for even more illiterate adults in coming years, who will then be left on the fringes of society!
    I am lucky I can’t remember never being able to read, now I am assisting teaching adults today, who have been completely ignored, during their own schooldays, some of whom are dyslexic!

    It is very rewarding, but I do wish I wasn’t needed in that capacity!

  4. David K.

    The question of teachers’ qualifications is a very interesting one. I will declare an interest: I am not a qualified teacher, but I work in the education field and I would love the chance to become a teacher, qualified or unqualified, but it is politically and thus practically very difficult in Wales to become the latter (unlike in England), so I’m in the process of gaining a fourth university degree and another GCSE pass in order to be allowed to enroll to study for a second PGCE (my sixth university qualification), then I’ll be allowed to teach in a state school in Wales. In the meantime they’ll accept applicants with a 2:2 in English. We hear a great deal about ‘unqualified’ teachers in English schools, especially from Tristram Hunt, but it is frustrating that we don’t have a statistical breakdown of what qualifications teachers without a PGCE (Primary or Secondary) do have, presumably because it would be politically awkward for the government to collect and publish the data. I wish they would collect it, though, because then we would know exactly what ‘unqualified’ meant and we could see just how well or badly qualified ‘unqualified’ teachers are instead of having to guess. Certainly Tristram Hunt can’t tell us how unqualified they are, and the government won’t.

    1. LizR

      They’re unqualified as teachers, so it doesn’t really matter what other qualifications they have. I have a number of higher qualifications but that doesn’t mean I delude myself that I could teach. (I don’t understand why David K needs a second PGCE if he already has one btw – doesn’t that make him a qualified teacher?)

      1. David K.

        To say that to be a teacher one needs a PGCE, end of story, is a bit reductive, so is the insistence of many teacher training establishments on a degree in the subject one intends to teach, even if the applicant’s pass in that subject is graded a lower second and they only attained a ‘B’ at A-level. On such a basis neither Jonathan Miller (medicine) nor Alan Bennett (history) would be eligible to apply to train as an English teacher without doing enough undergraduate English modules for half a degree first! This, despite the fact that the social enterprise Teach First enjoys the support of both Labour and the Conservatives, and it puts untrained teachers, without degrees in their chosen subject, into schools to learn on the job. Some policy inconsistency there.

        I don’t ‘delude myself I can teach’ because I have two higher degrees. I have been a private tutor for six years, a GCSE English examiner for four, and an F.E. tutor for two. The reason I have to have a second PGCE, and to be eligible to apply for that, two more years of undergraduate study, is that unlike in England, in Wales a PGCE (PCET), which I have, isn’t recognized as a suitable or sufficient qualification for teaching in schools.

  5. David Santamaría

    Some “Free Schools” are operated by local authorities. My (qualified teacher – 2.1 degree and PGCE) daughter teaches Reception in a free school which is operated by the county council, because it is the only way it can open new schools. As far as I am aware all the classroom teachers are fully qualified to teach.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      That’s interesting – but doesn’t change the facts as they appear in the article. In fact, it makes matters worse, if local education authorities are no longer allowed to open schools any other way.

      1. David K.

        No, it doesn’t change the fact that the Coalition’s Free Schools policy, like Gove’s undemocratic determination to turn every state school into an academy, has been disastrous for a coherent education system and a rip off for taxpayers, pupils and parents. It does further undermine the case for Tristram Hunt’s obsession with teachers’ qualifications, though.

        He should be attacking the Tories’ wasteful extravagance instead. A Labour pledge to make all existing teachers train for the PGCE isn’t good enough. It needs to create an alternative, public sector route to the PGCE for postgraduate polymaths and career changers who want to enter the profession as well, and not leave that to a third sector organization with close links to the management consultancy and financial sectors, which is the situation that pertains at present.

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