When is a free school not a free school?

The Guardian newspaper are reporting today that four new free schools have been given initial approval by Michael Gove. This increases the number of free schools from 16 to 20. My son attends one of these schools – Sandbach School. Here is a section of article:

At least four new applications to open free schools, part of a generation of “independent state schools” led by demand from parents and teachers, will be given initial approval by the education secretary, Michael Gove, tomorrow.

The latest free school applications to win approval from the government include All Saints school in Reading; Cuckoo Hall school in Enfield, north London; Sandbach school in Cheshire; and the Bradford free school group.

Sandbach is a boys’ school that used to be private. It is officially listed as an independent school, but is now comprehensive and publicly funded. The school was turned down for an academy conversion this year because of its independent status and applied to be a free school instead.

You might presume from that description that the school has become a free school. But you’d be wrong. To set up a free school, an existing school, or a group of people who want to create a new school, have to work through a four staged process (preparation, proposal, full business case and pre-opening). Conversations I have had with senior managers at the school today have revealed that the school has only recently submitted the free school proposal form to the DfE. They have a number of questions that they are still awaiting responses to from the DfE and have not put together a business plan, i.e. they have not even reached stage 3. In their minds, this is all very much at the exploratory stage and no final decisions have been made.

So, is this misreporting by The Guardian. I think not. It seems to be a deliberate attempt by the DfE to inflate the potential number of free schools (at least by 1!) and is a misrepresentation of the school’s position at the current time.

Sandbach School may become a free school in the fulness of time. If so, it will be done properly, with a due consideration to the various issues and in consultation with the pupils, parents and wider community of Sandbach. At the present point of time, none of this has happened.

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