Are Free Schools being built in areas of need?

Last updated: 18 Jun 2013

Labour's Shadow Education Secretary Stephen Twigg this week hinted at his intentions towards Free Schools, one of the Coalition's more controversial education reforms.

During a speech titled "No School Left Behind" Mr Twigg argued that Free Schools - taxpayer-funded institutions afforded greater control over key issues such as the curriculum than other state schools - are not a panacea for all the problems in the education system.

In fact, the Shadow Education Secretary argued that they are actually exacerbating some problems. To illustrate his point, he claimed "millions have been spent opening schools in areas with a surplus of places," drawing money away from over-subscribed locales.

Another former Education Minister, Lord Adonis, fleshed out Labour's objection more fully:

"Where we differ fundamentally from the Conservatives is that they are allowing 'free schools' to be established anywhere, whether or not there is a need for additional places, whereas Labour will rightly locate new academies in areas — and there are plenty of them — where there is a shortage of good quality school places."

So what do we know about the relationship between demand for school places and the sites of these 97 Free Schools?

How crowded are English schools?

The Department for Education has revealed in its statistical release that 20.3% of primary schools in 2012 were either full or had pupils in excess of school capacity. 79.6% of them had 1 or more unfilled places; The same can be said for 21.2% per cent of secondary schools which are either full or with pupils in excess.

Last month we found out a quarter of a million school places will be needed by 2014.

Where is demand for places highest?

The map below shows the location of all the 97 free schools, as well as the areas where demand for schools places is greatest.

We used data from the Department of Education's database - Edubase - to gather the list of Free Schools and merged that with the DfE's statistics on school capacity for the year 2012.

What the map tells us

The map shows that there are a number of areas where there are more applicants than there are places (the scale of this excess demand is shown here as a proportion of the total number of school places) in both Primary and Secondary.

It's certainly true that not all of these areas are set to benefit from new Free Schools, with the London Boroughs of Bromley (where there are 2.6% more applicants than places) and Islington (2.21%), Milton Keynes (1.56%) and Bury (2.07%) all missing out.

Similarly, while there is some evidence that some schools are being built in areas that are already relatively well-resourced, as Stephen Twigg claims, the map also shows that a number of Free Schools are emerging in areas - such as Birmingham, Tower Hamlets and Derbyshire - where demand is high.

Of course, the DfE lists a number of reasons for its decision to back Free Schools, so whether their ability to sate demand should be the only yardstick by which their success is measured is open to question.

html, body, #googft-mapCanvas {
height: 380px;
margin: 0;
padding: 0;
width: 600px;
}
#googft-legend{background-color:#fff;border:1px solid #000;font-family:Arial, sans-serif;font-size:12px;margin:5px;padding:10px 10px 8px;}#googft-legend p{font-weight:bold;margin-top:0;}#googft-legend div{margin-bottom:5px;}.googft-legend-swatch{border:1px solid;float:left;height:12px;margin-right:8px;width:20px;}.googft-legend-range{margin-left:0;}.googft-dot-icon{margin-right:8px;}.googft-paddle-icon{height:24px;left:-8px;margin-right:-8px;position:relative;vertical-align:middle;width:24px;}.googft-legend-source{margin-bottom:0;margin-top:8px;}.googft-legend-source a{color:#666;font-size:11px;}








function initialize() {
var map = new google.maps.Map(document.getElementById('googft-mapCanvas'), {
center: new google.maps.LatLng(52.494069,-0.679779),
zoom: 6,
mapTypeId: google.maps.MapTypeId.ROADMAP
});
map.controls[google.maps.ControlPosition.RIGHT_BOTTOM].push(document.getElementById('googft-legend'));






layer = new google.maps.FusionTablesLayer({
map: map,
heatmap: { enabled: false },
query: {
select: "col2x3ex3e1",
from: "1VG_l9H9ok5jxRZilsKKSVtbgQFgJfkSEGJpu5LQ",
where: ""
},
options: {
styleId: 2,
templateId: 2
}
});
layer = new google.maps.FusionTablesLayer({
map: map,
heatmap: { enabled: false },
query: {
select: "col2",
from: "14Ss-6koA_F34M6lIRw8tcGFnniw3JPs1-neXBDM",
where: ""
},
options: {
styleId: 2,
templateId: 2
}
});
























}

google.maps.event.addDomListener(window, 'load', initialize);



Excess as a percentage of school places

0 to 0.75 0.75 to 1.5 1.5 to 2.25 2.25 to 3 Source

(Mapping data is missing for Barking, Cheshire and Durham - we're working on resolving this.)


 

 

---

Flickr image courtesy of hammersmithandfulham

 


Featured

The EU: need to know

We aim for our factchecks to be as accurate and up-to-date as possible. If you think we've made an error or missed some relevant information, please email team@fullfact.org.