Still ready and willing to proclaim the virtues of Free Schools, and especially the one founded by those including Himself Personally Now, is the loathsome Toby Young, taking his crusade at the weekend into the enemy camp by writing for the deeply subversive Guardian. “Free Schools aren’t empty, it’s just bad press” he proclaimed, pleading for a reasoned debate on the issue.
Yes, "Oiky", your policies are poor value for money
Tobes went on “As the general election approaches, it would be good to have a proper, grown up debate about Michael Gove's education policies ... Unfortunately, so much misinformation is put out by theteaching unions and their allies in the Labour Party, that's going to be virtually impossible”. This assumes they are the only ones not in approval of Michael “Oiky” Gove’s DfE regime.
It also begs the question of what less than favourable news Tobes may be trying to distract from. But we did not have to wait too long to have Warwick Mansell – also at the Guardian – confirm that, yes, there was bad news for Free Schools on the way: “Free schools fail Ofsted inspections at much higher rate than state schools”. There isn’t an easy way to spin that one, eh Tobes?
Mansell went on “Four free schools have been rated ‘inadequate’ by the inspectorate, of the 41 that have had judgments published as of the end of last week. This is 9.7%. By contrast, the latest Ofsted data on all state schools shows only 3% are categorised as inadequate. Not a huge sample group, but these are not figures the government is going to be rushing out in any press release”.
Moreover, the failure rate “might be about to rise further”: “Another free school, not included in these figures, visited by Ofsted in February, has been placed in special measures, we understand. Staff were told of the unofficial judgment in mid-March, though the report remained unpublished as we went to press”. The catalogue of disasters for Free Schools doesn’t seem to be shrinking just yet.
And Mansell points out that “Overall, 79% of state schools are rated good or outstanding compared with only 68% of free schools”, whereas Tobes would clearly rather talk about his school, which “receives roughly 10 applicants for every place and has done since it opened three years ago”, but concedes “about 50 [Free Schools] are in areas where there's no need for more places”.
Mansell’s article makes clear that the significant investment in Free Schools has apparently not improved standards. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that this is not a good use of taxpayers’ money, especially given the original £450 million budget has overshot by more than a billion pounds. And flogging off pupil data as part of a Government effort to “Marketise” it won’t fill the hole.
That is the kind of Gove policy about which we should be having a grown up debate.