Free schools ‘popular with non-white families’

Aug 7, 2014 by

White children make up only third of the free school primary population – less than half the national average in England

The government’s free schools programme has proved to be popular with non-white families, according to the first academic analysis of the policy, which also found free schools attracted brighter and slightly better-off primary-aged pupils compared with the national average.

“Free schools have emerged most strongly in neighbourhoods with high proportions of non-white children, compared with the national average, and that within those neighbourhoods they have admitted even higher proportions of non-whites,” the report’s authors, led by Prof Francis Green of the Institute for Education, said.

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The research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, looked at the neighbourhoods and enrolments of 88 primary and 63 secondary mainstream free schools that opened between 2011 and September 2013.

In primary schools, researchers found that white children made up only a third of the free school population, which is less than half the national average in England and well below the proportion of the white ethnic population in the neighbourhoods where the schools were sited.

The situation was less marked in secondary schools, where 61% of pupils were from white ethnic backgrounds, still well below the 78% of white pupils nationally and the 66% white population living near the free schools’ locations.

The researchers suggested that one reason for the ethnic composition was the number of non-Christian faith schools among the free schools to have opened. “The proportion that are non-Christian is 17% for secondary schools and 9% for primary schools. These compare with under 1% for other schools at either level,” the report notes.

The data reveals evidence to boost both supporters and opponents of free schools, a policy championed by the former education secretary Michael Gove but which the Labour opposition has since pledged to reform if it returns to power.

The researchers confirmed earlier analysis by the National Audit Office that the new schools had fewer pupils eligible for free school meals than their surrounding areas. The IoE researchers also found that primary-aged pupils entering free schools tended to be more academically advanced than their neighbourhood peers.

“It appears that, so far, the places in reception at free primary schools are being filled by children who are somewhat less disadvantaged and more advanced in their development than the average. This outcome may be disappointing for the government, which had hopes that its free schools policy would be a vehicle for delivering social justice,” said Prof Green.

A spokesperson for the DfE said two-thirds of free schools had opened in the 50% most deprived areas of the country.

“They are offering parents more choice than ever before and allowing thousands more children the opportunity to go to an outstanding state school,” the spokesperson said, pointing to the success of outstanding free schools in deprived urban areas such as Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford and Perry Beeches II in Birmingham, where large majorities of students were from ethnic minority backgrounds and were eligible for free school meals.

Tristram Hunt, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said the analysis showed that the free school programme was failing to reach the poorest children.

“By allowing unqualified teachers into the classroom, spending taxpayers’ money setting up free schools in areas with surplus places – when we have huge pressures on primary school places – and presiding over a widening of the attainment gap between the poorest children and the rest, we are seeing school standards suffer,” Hunt said.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teachers’ union, said millions of pounds had been spent on free schools with little to show for it. “There has never been any evidence that structural change raises standards but there is a wealth of evidence to show that it can lead to social segregation,” she said.

via Free schools ‘popular with non-white families’ | Education | theguardian.com.

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