Chalk Talk: Free school statistics that may not quite add up


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An intriguing insight into the Government's flagship free schools policy was given last weekend at the Northern Rocks education conference in Leeds.

Laurie McInerney, a former London teacher who professes to be neither pro or anti free schools, urged caution when it comes to the Government's proclamations that they are doing better than existing state schools. These are based on just 56 inspection reports on free schools and compared with more than 20,000 on existing state schools.

Moreover, in saying that more free schools are being declared outstanding compared to the average under the new Ofsted inspection regime, it has to be borne in mind that existing schools are more likely to get a fresh inspection if they have previously been declared "inadequate" or "requires improvement".

Another intriguing finding is that none of the schools that have 20 per cent or more unqualified teaching staff are included among the 11 schools so far declared "outstanding".

That, I predict, will be widely seized upon by Labour and the Liberal Democrats who take issue with the decision by the Education Secretary, Michael Gove, to allow such schools to recruit non-qualified staff.

In addition, four of those declared "outstanding" are members of multi-academy chains, leading her to suggest that this is the approach most likely to be adopted in future by free-school applications. The days of the parent-led approach to free schools seem numbered, she predicted.

Meanwhile, an insight of another kind emerged when the spat between Michael Gove and the Home Secretary, Theresa May, emerged into the open.

Newspaper stories are often based on quotes from "a source close to" the minister whom the story is about. In this case, Mr Gove was forced to admit to the Prime Minister that he in fact was the "source close to Gove".

Perhaps, in future, newspapers should say "a source that couldn't be closer to Gove (or whoever)". It removes the subterfuge without actually naming the person concerned.