Proposals for new free schools have to include an impact assessment. These estimate the likely effect of the new provision on nearby schools.
It would be expected that such impact assessments would be available before free schools opened. But they aren’t. There’s an unacceptable delay. Impact assessments for 2016 and 2017 openers weren’t published until July 2018. And those for 2018 openers aren’t yet available.
Impact assessments should not be kept hidden until two years after free schools open. Impact assessments should be published during the proposal stage so local parents, nearby schools and affected councils know the potential impact of a new school being set up. This is especially true when free schools threaten the viability of existing ones.
The impending closure of the International Academy of Greenwich (IAG) shows how important it is for these assessments to be published before free schools open. IAG’s impact assessment showed it posed a high risk to two nearby schools. If this had been in the public domain before the school was opened, then it might not have gone ahead.
This would have spared pupils, parents and staff the upheaval of having their school closed.
Taxpayers’ money is wasted if schools are allowed to open when they pose a threat to the viability of existing schools. This creates turmoil locally. For example, the Corelli College, Greenwich, blamed competition from free schools for the financial difficulties which led to it being transferred to another academy trust. Corelli College had been one of five Greenwich schools identified as being at ‘high risk’ from the Greenwich Free School which opened in September 2012.
Similarly, the impact assessment for Route 39 free school, Devon, showed it ‘may affect the long term financial viability’ of two nearby schools. It also showed that the five schools within 15 miles of the proposed site all had surplus places and all were undersubscribed at the time.
Successive governments since 2010 have boasted about increased transparency. But there’s little transparency about the potential impact of new free schools if such information is buried until a couple of years have passed and free schools have opened.