Scrutiny of free school plans too weak, DfE commissioner admits

The TES is reporting that the new head of the government’s free schools and academies programme has admitted scrutiny of new free school plans has not been good enough in the past…

Frank Green, who was appointed national schools commissioner at the Department for Education earlier this year, made the admission when asked why so many free schools were being set up in areas with large numbers of surplus places.

“A few years ago, in order to launch the programme, the scrutiny process was perhaps not as strong as it should have been,” Mr Green conceded at a Westminster Education Forum event.

He was responding to concerns about surplus places raised by Jan Tallis, chair of governors at Forest Gate Community School in East London.

“In London we’ve also got huge squeezes in certain areas where, you know, kids can’t go to school,” she said. “Yet down the road, where it’s completely not needed, we’ve got free schools opening without adequate facilities. And it just does seem a little bit bonkers.”

…Mr Green said 80 per cent of “new” free schools were now in areas of basic need.

When asked about Trinity Academy, a free school that opened on an £18 million site in Brixton, South London, this term with just 17 pupils, he noted that it had been approved “two or three years ago”.

He told TES: “That would be unlikely to happen now because the criteria [for opening free schools] are much more rigorous in terms of the two requirements – that there is a basic need or that there is weakness or there is not outstanding performance in that area.”

Asked whether those criteria had been in place in the past, he said: “Before my time…”

More at: Scrutiny of free school plans too weak, DfE commissioner admits

 

Frank green is suggesting the process has been strengthened from that which led to some of the free schools that have already launched, or are launching now, do you agree? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter…

 

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Comments

  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove So in order to establish the govt policy the DfE just agreed to anything, wasting millions in the process. How reassuring…

  2. Janet2

    So,  ‘the criteria [for opening free schools] are much more rigorous in terms of the two requirements – that there is a basic need or that there is weakness or there is not outstanding performance in that area.’  But that last criteria (ie no school judged Outstanding in the immediate vicinity, allows free schools to be approved in areas where they are surplus places simply because no local school (or the one local school in some areas) isn’t Outstanding.

  3. jess_madge

    SchoolsImprove Assume Gove was stamping foot and demanding more free schools + academies. “Or I’ll scream and scream until I’m sick.”

  4. Janet2

    Free schools were supposed to show evidence of ‘demand’.  Yet it appears that when some of them open the ‘demand’ has disappeared.

    The Local Government Association warned a couple of years ago that the academy/free school programme would make it very difficult for LAs to plan school place supply.  Opening schools in areas with a surplus is a waste of public money and can threaten the viability of existing schools.

    And more choice can actually result in less choice.  For example, a second secondary could take numbers from an existing secondary.  This could result in two small secondaries offering less subject choice than one large one.

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