6 November 2012

The Coalition Government has widely promoted free schools as part of a process to eradicate unequal opportunities. Findings from Race on the Agenda (ROTA) suggest that participation from Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities (BAME), who are amongst some of the most acutely disadvantaged in education, is notably lacking.

Free schools opening in deprived urban areas are not enrolling pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds at the same rate as other local schools. Although BAME communities are keen to seize the free schools programme as an opportunity to improve educational outcomes, better encouragement and support from the Department for Education is needed.

Improvements could be made to admissions policies, curriculum approaches and evaluation practices, so that parents, teachers, governors and pupils from BAME communities are more widely and properly represented.

More could be done to ensure better representation of BAME communities and to improve schools’ equality and diversity measures in a number of areas. For some proposers, the application process appears to support established models and frameworks, as opposed to encouraging a range of schools. This, together with other factors which may discourage or disadvantage applicants, such as lack of access to financial expertise, resource and social capital, should be investigated.

ROTA’s attempts to gather information about how free schools are benefiting BAME communities has been hampered by a lack of transparency from the Department for Education and insufficient evaluation of their impact.

The research findings question whether the continued expansion of free schools can be justified, without better ways of engaging and involving people from BAME communities. The continued expansion of the Free Schools Programme as a gateway to better educational opportunity should not go unchallenged.

Dr Elizabeth Henry, ROTA’s Chief Executive said ‘It is ROTA’s intention to continue with this research and come up with ways to ensure that fairness, equality and inclusiveness are central to the Free Schools programme.’


The report from Inclusive Schools: The Free Schools Monitoring Project is available at

For more information, or to request an interview, please contact our Senior Policy Officer, Barbara Nea, email, telephone 020 7842 8531.

Race on the Agenda (ROTA) is a London-based, BAME-led social policy organisation focused on issues affecting Black, Asian minority ethnic (BAME) communities. All ROTA’s work is based on the principle that those with direct experience of inequality should be central to solutions to address it. Our policy priorities of health, education and criminal justice are shaped by the lived experiences of BAME communities and their organisations.