The Independent is reporting that the government should review its flagship free schools policy after research suggested it has failed to fulfil its original purpose of providing parent-led schools, a new report says.
Only one in five free schools have been set up by parents – and increasingly these new schools are being opened and led by academy chains rather than parental groups, the analysis reveals.
Free schools take a disproportionately low number of disadvantaged pupils from their catchment areas, the study by charity Sutton Trust and the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER) has found.
It is understood that poorer families may be less likely to apply for free schools – even if they are based in areas of disadvantage in the country – because of overly complex admissions procedures.
The report found that the number of schools set up by parents was at its height in the early years of the programme, with parents involved in the set up of over 40 per cent of the secondary free schools opened between 2011 and 2013.
Of the secondary schools established since 2015, this has dropped to less than 20 per cent, the study said.
The report calls on the government to review and clarify the mission of free schools – and it also calls on free schools to recruit more disadvantaged pupils to reflect the communities they serve.
Another one of the aims of the programme, highlighted in the report, was to boost the number of schools that take an innovative approach to the curriculum or ethos – and yet just a third of free schools have demonstrated a “novel approach” to their work, the study finds.
Sir Peter Lampl, founder of the Sutton Trust, said: “Free schools were supposed to bring new and innovative providers into the education sector, to drive up standards and improve school choice. But as our research shows, very few are fulfilling that original purpose.”
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