Sunday, September 04, 2011

A Free First for Redbridge

Congratulations to Aldborough Free School which opened on 1st September and became the first free school in London. Redbridge has a massive shortage of school places and so any new places, particularly in the south of the borough, are to be welcomed. We wish them every success in the future.

However, we should not forget that in order to open this new school in the Downshall Centre many voluntary and community groups were evicted with little or no consultation. The 50+ protesters and the 1700+ signature petition only succeeded obtaining some small concessions from Redbridge Council.

So is Redbridge in the vangaurd of a transformation in how schools will be run and will the current government manage to take all schools out of any local authority control?

Well lets hope not because it seems that in the name of choice local people and community groups are marginalised in the decision making process about free schools. These decisions are now taken centrally by the Secretary of State who cannot possibly be as well connected to the local community. As we have seen with the Downshall Centre negotiations and discussions happen mostly behind closed doors and are only subject to public scrutiny once the decision has effectively been made anyway.

Also we are beginning to see that the real plan behind free schools is not to provide choice to groups of motivated parents and teachers. According to the Observer today Gove and Cameron were hoping to boost the numbers of free schools by allowing them to be run by profit making companies. Not quite the vision we were sold of small parent/teachers groups with freedom from control and licence to experiment. Further evidence that this is the real plan can be seen here at the Adam Smith Institute who have produced a report which amongst other things argues free schools won't really make a difference unless they are allowed to be profit making.

We will now be relying on Nick Clegg to stop this happening so fingers crossed!

A couple of topical updates if you want further reading,

First FactCheck (the Channel 4 independent fact checking blog) reports on whether the first free schools are really reaching the most disadvantaged.

And secondly some thoughts on what free schools are for from the Centre for Market and Public Organisation at the University of Bristol.


  1. Very good piece - puts it in perspective really well.

    How should we judge these new kinds of schools?

  2. Re how we judge them a significant issue is that the financial arrangements are commercially sensitive ie we aren't allowed to see them. So we don't know whether individual schools are value for money or what exactly the start up funding is being spent on.

    In the future they ought to be judged on whether they are really meeting demand in the most needy areas so would need to look at deprivation, % of free school meals and the number of school places vs the locations of free schools.

  3. How can the accounts of something that is a charitable concern for the benefit of the people be commercially sensitive?

  4. Clive - by the same barmy logic that dreams up such establishments in the first place. A recipe for chaos.

  5. currently it is perceived by free schools and academies, to be financially advantageous, to, in effect,be funded by central government,as with all things one day the Government will decide that it cant afford to fund them to the same extent, so they will only gain a relatively short term advantage, then no doubt the fall out will be left to local government to pick up the pieces.

  6. That, dopeyf, is rather what happened with grant maintained (GM) schools. They were bribed by receiving more money than most local authority maintained schools. However, around the mid-1990s I can recall Redbridge-funded schools receiving a 2% increase in their budgets whilst GMs received only 0.5%.

    Beware Greeks bearing gifts......

  7. B21 'demand' - I'm not sure. Schools are more like rail services than supermarket products. But I am hazy on how many years these schools get to establish themselves - if there is a school which does not attain a good reputation and suffers a fall in demand for places, for how long does the school get to continue receiving public money? And are such schools liable to get run down for years before they are finally deemed to have failed under the new market terms?

  8. Clive - my view is that the government doesn't want us to know how much the schools really cost to set up and where the money is going. There is quite a broad definition of what pre-opening costs are and what they can be spent on.
    Once the school is opening and running the funding mechanism is more transparent.

  9. The BBC has been parroting all day that Aldborough School's setup costs were "only" £3-million. They conveniently ignore the capital value of the land and buildings gifted by Redbridge; nor do they mention that some years ago now the council closed the building to Downshall Juniors because of its inadequacies and provided a new school opposite that met all the government requirements of the day.

    Transparency? Ha, ha, ha!

  10. which in effect has happened with the new Hindu School in Barkingside,if these schools did not, in effect, get the capital costs paid, they would not exist, and all the schools would be under the local authority, what has happened is we are still paying for these schools,but have completely lost control of how they operate,this is simply taxation without representation.

  11. dopeyf - couldn't put it better myself.

  12. Not strictly accurate, dopeyf, if I may say so. It's government-contrived legalised theft.