Comment on the Sutton Trust and NFER on Free Schools

Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretary of the National Education Union, has commented on the new analysis of free schools published by the Sutton Trust and the National Foundation for Educational Research, published today.

“The Union has said since the free school programme first came into being under then Secretary of State Michael Gove that it was an ill-conceived and misguided education policy. This report simply confirms what we have said all along: that free schools add nothing to the school system in England but instead have, in many cases, undermined existing schools where they have been established in areas without basic need for new school places. As the report notes, many primary free schools have been set up in areas where available capacity exceeds forecast need by at least 10%. At a time of school funding cuts, this has created unwelcome competition for pupils and vital school funding.

“Free schools were marketed as an opportunity for parents and teachers to set up their own schools and provide ‘innovative’ educational opportunities. But as this report makes clear, in recent years they have largely been established by multi academy trusts and, in the majority of cases, provide much the same education as neighbouring schools. The notion of ‘increased parental choice’ which the free school programme claimed to offer was simply smoke and mirrors.

“The report notes that while many free schools have been established in areas of disadvantage, their intakes fail to reflect the numbers of children locally who are entitled to free school meals. Free schools are state funded schools and their pupil populations should reflect the make-up of their neighbourhoods. The fact that they control their own admissions is an aspect of the free school programme that the National Education Union has long opposed.

“The report fails to mention the high cost to the taxpayer of the free school programme – some £3.6 billion to date – or an average of £8.6 million per school. (1) The NEU is clear that this money could have been better invested in existing state schools in England and in funding local authorities to establish new maintained schools where there is a clear need for new school places and which, unlike free schools, are accountable to local communities. “

(1)    Tom Richmond, Free Schools, At What Cost?


Press release
31 May 2018