Monday 15 September 2014

Free Schools failing to demonstrate they are advancing racial equality, new report finds

The Coalition Government’s free schools programme, contrary to its stated aims to address educational disadvantage and attainment gaps, is failing to do so, concludes a report commissioned by the NASUWT, the largest teachers’ union in the UK.

The report, Free Schools, Equality and Inclusion, researched and written by Race On The Agenda (ROTA) found that many free schools are not operating fair and inclusive admission policies and are failing to comply with their statutory obligations to equality.

The research also found barriers that are hindering Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities from establishing free schools.

The report suggests that the Coalition Government's free schools programme may be disadvantaging BME pupils, parents and teachers. It criticises the “complete lack of transparency” around the Department for Education’s free schools programme and the lack of robust processes to ensure that free schools are properly scrutinised and accountable on grounds of racial equality.

The research findings also identified:

  • a failure of free schools to demonstrate awareness of the Equality Act 2010 and adherence to the Public Sector Equality Duty, with many schools requesting more support and training in order to improve;
  • approval of free schools opening even though proper equality impact assessments have not been carried out;
  • free schools opening even though their impact on other schools had been judged likely to be detrimental and
  • measures to review the effectiveness of the free schools programme appeared to be unlikely to directly address issues of equality and inclusion.

Chris Keates, General Secretary of the NASUWT, said:

“The Prime Minister has recently promoted free schools as a means to tackle the challenge of educational opportunities and attainment for black and ethnic minority children.

“Yet, in this Report, we can see the stark evidence that the vast majority of free schools are failing to demonstrate any significant commitment to equality and diversity.

"There is no evidence to show that the free schools model raises standards of education or that it will narrow the achievement gap between pupils from different ethnic groups.

“There is, however, evidence that the Coalition Government’s free schools programme could lead to social segregation which will be to the detriment of BME children and young people.

" Millions of pounds of tax-payers’ money are being poured into an ideologically-driven free schools programme which is failing to demonstrate any tangible benefits for all children and young people in our public education system.”

Andy Gregg, Chief Executive of ROTA, said:

"We are very concerned at what these findings show. Not only are the governing bodies of free schools failing in a core function to ensure that statutory duties are met, the Department for Education is also failing to make sure that free schools take promoting equality seriously.

“We have now looked at free schools that have opened in 2011, 2012 and 2013 and over the course of these three years there seems to be very little improvement in terms of commitment to and implementation of Equality duties."


Notes to editors

The project included a literature review, an examination of the websites of free schools through equality impact assessments and evaluation of school policies, and a survey of free schools.

A review of literature and websites was carried out on material relating to 93 free schools which were approved to open in England in 2013. A survey of 1,210 successful and unsuccessful free school projects were identified and surveyed to determine how BME communities can benefit from the free schools programme.