Fog lifting on free schools

The fog may be lifting on the Government’s free schools programme.

Mr Gove has at last reluctantly let the Department of Education publish information about the names and religious affiliation of 517 applicants to open free schools.

Mr Gove had been resisting a ruling by Information Commissioner Christopher Graham to release the information and had appealed to a tribunal to keep the information secret.

Both the Commissioner and the Tribunal ruled that it was in the public interest for the information to be disclosed.

Now that a modicum of transparency has crept in to the DfE’s approach to free schools, is it too much to hope that we can see more transparency around the  DfE’s choice of Academy Sponsors, as we raised in our last post?

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There should be more transparency

The government stated ambitions are to turn round failing schools and to promote parental choice.  It seems that the only way they want to do this is by imposing an academy sponsor on a school whether they like it or not.

In two recent high profile examples neither the school nor the parents were given any choice over their school’s future.  Downhills school in Haringey, in the face of strong local opposition, was forced to become an academy – under Harris; Roke Primary in Croydon, where governors wanted to join with a local secondary school academy, was forced to become an academy under the Department for Education’s chosen sponsor – Harris.

So who’s choice  is the Government promoting and on what basis is that choice being made?

To identify the best way forward for the school and to allow choices to be made, would it not be better – and more transparent – to set out what is required to improve the school and the criteria that will be applied to choosing the way of achieving that; to invite potential sponsors to tender for the role and state what they would offer; and to openly judge those bids against the criteria? And to give appropriate weight to the views of parents and governors in deciding the future of their school?

If they are serious about promoting choice, then the Department for Education must provide greater transparency in the process, explaining the criteria they use to judge potential sponsors and how their decisions around sponsors are taken – and justify why they seem to believe that the imposition of Harris is consistent with the promotion of parental choice.