Co-authored with the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), this report takes a snapshot of the free school programme in England, seven years after its establishment. The report looks at the types of school set up, the characteristics of their pupils, and their academic outcomes revealing that free schools are failing to fulfil their original purpose.
Free schools were the flagship education policy of the coalition government when they were first introduced in 2010. They were intended to bring new and innovative providers – including parents and teachers – into a more autonomous and self-improving school system, driving up standards through greater school choice and increased competition
‘Free for all?’ shows the change in the structure of free schools over time, revealing they no longer reflect the government’s original intentions set out in 2010. Over the past three years, free schools have become less innovative, less parent-led, and increasingly set-up by academy chains..
The report focused on the 311 open mainstream free schools, excluding UTCs, studio schools, special schools and alternative provision. Only one in five free schools has had parents involved in their inception, and the proportion of parent-led schools has decreased over time. The number of schools with parental involvement was at its height in the early years of the programme, with parents involved in the set-up of over 40 per cent of the 25 secondary free schools opened between 2011 and 2013. Of the 37 secondaries established since 2015, this has dropped to less than 20 per cent.