The government’s ‘free schools’ are actively diverting education funds from where they are most needed, a Bristol MP has claimed today.
Kerry McCarthy has said the performance of the coalition’s flagship free schools need to be more closely assessed because they have a higher proportion of children from wealthier backgrounds.
The Bristol East MP’s comments came after it emerged that at least three-quarters of free schools have admitted a lower proportion of deprived pupils than is average for their wider neighbourhood.
The Department for Education revealed that 18 of the 24 free schools that opened last autumn have taken a lower proportion of children eligible for free school meals than is average for schools with pupils of the same age group across their local authority.
Free schools are one of the most prominent of the Conservative party’s “big society” projects. The schools can be founded by parents, charities and teachers, although in many cases faith organisations, education companies or existing academy sponsors have taken the lead.
But Ms McCarthy attacked education secretary Michael Gove’s claims that free schools would give the poorest children the opportunity to receive “the kind of education only the rich can afford”.
The data from the Department for Education comes in response to a parliamentary question submitted by Ms McCarthy in October.
“This data gives the lie to Michael Gove’s claim that free schools target disadvantage. In future, we will have to be careful when assessing the performance of free schools, as they have a higher proportion of children from wealthier backgrounds,” she said.
“I am also concerned that they are not only failing to target resources effectively, but are actually diverting funds from where they are most needed.
“In Bristol’s case, at a time when there is an overwhelming need to provide additional primary school places, a free school was opened even though there is a surplus of secondary school places, especially in surrounding schools – a surplus which is reducing their budgets, staff and even the range of opportunities they can provide their students.”