The Times this morning has this stunning statement (well, not that stunning – bottom of Page 12, next to an advert for a new Mini):
Free schools are opening in disadvantaged areas but taking in fewer poor children than other local schools….Although the state schools set up parent, teacher or community groups are likely to open in places of deprivation, their intake is better off than the average local child.
The source of this is a new IoE report, summarised here. It makes for interesting reading, and is encouraging at least because it recognises that those setting up free schools have often put them in the right places. But some of the data indicates that parental motivation and prior attainment are higher in free schools.
But what did we expect? In any area of social deprivation there will be families who are disaffected with the quality of local education and will leap at the chance of a free school. This does not make the idea right. It is simply a reflection of what happens in any area, no matter how affluent. Those with the greatest motivation for and engagement with their children will usually have children with greater attainment when they start school (see Desforges 2003 for more on this).
But it is the policy that is misguided. This data could be produced from any school where the parents were behind it, supported it and made it an attractive place to be a parent of a child in. And that, as the authors of the Local Schools Network make clear, could and should be every school.