Press release

New free schools are a popular choice for parents

Thousands of parents have applied to send their children to the first 24 free schools with latest analysis showing that half are in the 30% most deprived communities.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

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  • Two thirds of schools oversubscribed for their first year
  • Demand for some schools three times more than places available

Thousands of parents have applied to send their children to the first 24 Free Schools that are aiming to open in next month. This comes as latest analysis by the Department for Education shows that Free Schools are targeting deprivation, with half of the schools located in the 30 per cent most deprived communities.

15 of the 24 schools are oversubscribed for their first year, with some seeing more than three applications for one school place.

For example:

  • Moorlands School, Luton, received 420 applications for 115 places.
  • The West London Free School, Hammersmith and Fulham, received over 500 applications for 120 places.
  • Sandbach School, Cheshire, received 340 applications for 210 places.
  • St Luke’s Church of England Primary School, Camden, received 54 applications for 15 places.

Department for Education analysis published today also shows that Free Schools are targeting deprivation. Based on Super Output Areas - the most accurate reflection of a school’s local community - the analysis finds that of the 24 Free Schools opening in the next two weeks:

  • Over a third (9 schools) are located in the 20% most deprived communities.
  • Half the schools (12 schools) are located in the 30% most deprived communities.

The figures clearly show that the Free Schools policy has already been a success in creating schools in disadvantaged areas and where there is a need for new places. Many of the Free Schools opening this September have been set up because passionate teachers and charities want to support the very poorest pupils who live in communities where results and aspiration have been low for generations.

Free Schools will be good, local schools funded by the Government, but have greater freedoms than local authority run schools. They are run by teachers - not local councils or Westminster politicians - and have freedom over things like the length of the school day, the curriculum, and how they spend their money. These schools are opening because of real, local demand from parents for a new or different type of education to benefit local children and their families. They will meet parents’ simple desire for good, local, state funded schools that have strong discipline and - in many cases - small class sizes.

The teachers running the outstanding Cuckoo Hall Academy, for example, have decided to set up a Free School - Woodpecker Hall Primary Academy - so they can reach more children in a part of North London that needs good new school places, and where the number of pupils on Free Schools Meals is high.

Patricia Sowter, executive principal of Woodpecker Hall Primary Academy, talking about her previous experience before setting up a Free School said:

It would break my heart. I couldn’t give places to half of the children in the nursery class because of local authority admission rules. I remember one Asian family whose mother had tears in her eyes as she pleaded with me to take her daughter. I knew I had to do more to help these parents get what was best for their children. I knew these children could succeed, despite the deprivation and despite what seemed to be a mindset of low expectations at the local authority.

Under the Coalition Government’s new plans, Free Schools will also be able to prioritise the most disadvantaged children (eligible for Free School Meals) in their school admissions arrangements. With the Pupil Premium - worth £430 per pupil this year - there will be an even greater incentive for Free Schools to attract pupils that are most in need of high-quality education.

From initial proposal to opening, the first Free Schools will have taken between ten and 15 months to set up from submitting initial application forms. In the past, it took between three and five years to set up a maintained school, with parent-promoted schools taking up to nine years. It also took five years to open the first 50 Academies. The Government is shaving years off this to respond to the urgent demand from parents, and to drive up standards more quickly - especially for the poorest pupils.

Schools Minister Lord Hill said:

What parents want is the chance to send their children to a good local school with high standards. These new free schools are designed to achieve exactly that and we are committed to opening many more in the next few years.

For too long, politicians in Westminster have assumed they know best and that more political control means better results. The opposite is true. Good schools know better than politicians how to run their own affairs and that’s why we’re confident these free schools - which give them real independence - will offer local children a great education. It’s not surprising many are oversubscribed.

Notes to editors

  1. As of 1 September, the Free Schools that are oversubscribed this year are:
  • Aldborough E-ACT Free School, Redbridge
  • ARK Conway Primary Academy, Hammersmith & Fulham
  • Batley Grammar School, Kirklees
  • Bradford Science Academy, Bradford
  • Canary Wharf College, Tower Hamlets
  • Discovery New School, West Sussex
  • Eden Primary School, Haringey
  • Langley Hall Primary Academy, Slough
  • Maharish School, Lancashire
  • Moorlands School, Luton
  • Sandbach School, Cheshire
  • St Luke’s Church of England Primary School, Camden
  • The Free School Norwich, Norfolk
  • West London Free School, Hammersmith & Fulham
  • Woodpecker Hall Academy, Enfield
  1. The Department for Education’s analysis on the deprivation banding of Free Schools is available from this page.

  2. Groups that were successful in applying to open a Free School went through a robust process to make sure they were suitable and capable to run a school. They had to:

  • provide evidence of demand for a new local school
  • set out in detail the curriculum the school would offer, the type of teachers it would recruit, and how the school would run its pupil admissions to make sure they are fair
  • develop robust plans for how the school planned to run its finances (which then were scrutinised to make sure the school was financially viable)
  • secure an appropriate site for the school that provided value for money for the taxpayer
  • be CRB checked and undergo in-depth vetting by the Department’s Due Diligence Unit.

Like other state-funded schools, Free Schools are inspected by Ofsted, will have their exam and test results published and will have to teach a broad curriculum. Action will be taken if results slip or if teaching isn’t up to scratch. Free Schools also have to abide by the same rules for pupil admissions as other schools - making sure that these are fair and inclusive of children from different backgrounds.

DfE enquiries

Published 5 September 2011