LA maintained schools are now best in the country – it’s time for Gov’t to renew commitment to deliver more of them

Janet Downs's picture

Local authority maintained schools are among the best in the country when judged by Progress 8.   I’ve said so before

But let's be honest: this description can be applied to other types of school.  The ‘top ten’ includes academies, Muslim schools, a Steiner school, a Jewish school, non-selective schools, a selective school, faith schools and non-faith schools.  And free schools. 

You would think from the hype that free schools were the only ones in the ‘top ten’.  Their appearance caused Mark Lehain, director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence, to write a Telegraph article headlined:  ‘Free schools are now the best in the country - it's time for the Government to renew its commitment to deliver more of them’.

But substitute ‘free schools’ for any other type of school in the ‘top ten’ – as I’ve done – and the statement could be used to endorse any of them.

Lehain writes about the success of Bedford Free School where he was once head.  Its GCSE exam results, he explains, were the best in Bedford.  That’s true.  But this tells us more about the intake than the school’s effectiveness.  Its Progress 8* was average – the same as 40% of English state secondary schools.

There’s nothing wrong with being average – it means pupils made the progress expected of them based on their prior achievement at the end of primary schools.

Lehain cherry picks the free schools where pupils shone in GCSEs.  But there are others where pupils did poorly.  If it’s fair to say, as the New Schools Network does, that the average P8 score of free schools is the highest of all types of school, then it’s equally fair to say 20% of free schools are below the P8 floor standard - more than other type of school.   

But that’s misleading – there are too few free schools which have entered pupils for GCSEs to make a reliable conclusion.  At least Lehain admits that.

A ‘recent challenge’ to free schools is moving money from their capital funding to find extra money for all schools, Lehain said.   He forgets when Michael Gove was education secretary he took £400m from Basic Needs Funding, money to help local authorities create school places, to prop up the free school programme.     

This diversion of cash is a ‘mistake’, Lehain writes.  It will be more difficult for parents, teachers and local charities to set up schools.  But most free schools aren’t started by these groups but by multi-academy trusts.

Lehain ends by saying:

 ‘Given the position of free schools in today’s league tables…I hope that the new Education Secretary Damian Hinds will make it a priority to find the means to refresh and reenergise this policy once again.’

But, as I’ve already said, this could apply to any type of school.  This shows how daft these kinds of statements are.

*Progress 8, although better than judging schools solely on attainments, is still a flawed measure.  But it used by the Department of Education to judge schools. 

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John Bajina's picture
Tue, 30/01/2018 - 18:54

There comes a time when experiments using public money for public services must be reviewed in the cold light of evidence. Facts must over-ride political dogma.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds will do well not to try to refresh or re-energise this free but somehow expensive policy.

Janet Downs's picture
Wed, 31/01/2018 - 11:24

John - when it comes to hyping free school performance, those (like the New Schools Network and John Lehain) forget there are too few free schools to come to a robust conclusion about their performance as a group.    But if they are so keen to ignore this caveat and trumpet apparent success, then they should also look at the performance of primary free schools.    DfE data says:

'Attainment at the expected standard in free schools (54%) is lower than the national average.  At 8%, attainment at the higher standard is only slightly lower to the national average. Pupils in free schools made less progress in writing and in mathematics, relative to all pupils with similar prior attainment in other types of schools.'

This isn't fair, or course.  Too few primary free schools entered pupils for KS2 Sats.  But if NSN and others want to base conclusions on limited data then they shouldn't complain if others do the same.

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