Data: Free schools taking fewer deprived students

Yesterday, the Guardian reported that free schools are taking lower numbers of deprived students. The BBC defines free schools as schools “set up by groups of parents, teachers, charities, businesses, universities, trusts, religious or voluntary groups, but funded directly by central government.”

The article was based on data obtained from a FOI request sent by primary school governor Rachel Gooch, who had blogged about the results she found. The Guardian sums up her findings:

Gooch compared the intake of disadvantaged children at each of the free schools with the five nearest schools for pupils of a similar age group. She found that all but one of the free schools were taking fewer deprived pupils than average for their neighbouring schools.

The findings are at odds with the coalition’s claim that free schools are empowering working-class families. Michael Gove, the education secretary, has said the creation of free schools is intended to tackle flaws in the education system, including a concentration of the weakest schools in “our poorest towns and cities”.

One thing I want to note: In the comments section of Gooch’s blog post, Toby Young, who founded the West London Free School, flat out called Gooch a liar for her results. She responded by posting the letter from the personal assistant to the school’s headmaster that stated the data she used. He later apologized. That’s a great example of how to stand up for the data you find.

What else do we not know about free schools? Are they actually helping disadvantaged children? Are they worth the expensive price tag?

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