Free Schools are not recruiting minority and ‘disadvantaged students’*
In short? Yes. But the factors explaining why free schools are not recruiting students from these groups is not so simple to explain.
Free schools were primarily created to address the attainment gap in the UK. They have the same legal structures as Academies, which means they are free from local authorities when it comes to the operation of the school. Although funded through public money, free schools provide parents, teachers and others interested a chance to create new schools as a way to improve the choice of schooling.
Findings from the Race on the Agenda (ROTA) paper late last year outlined that free schools do not recruit students from the most deprived backgrounds and BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) students. With the knowledge that many students from deprived background and BAME students are on the wrong side of the attainment gap, how does this specifically designed policy not enroll their ‘target’ students? ROTA highlights several reasons for this (for the complete list check out FYI):
- Significant portions of free schools opened in deprived urban areas are not enrolling pupils from ‘disadvantaged’ backgrounds at the same rate as other local schools.
- There is a lack of transparency around the free schools programme. The public information provided by free schools themselves in relation to equality and inclusion is also often limited. This obscures the degree to which free schools are benefitting socio-economically disadvantaged communities. Additionally, this lack of information reduces accountability.
- There is a lack of engagement with BAME communities in the free schools programme. BAME communities – in particular those that have been acutely disadvantaged in education, such as African Caribbean, Pakistani, Gypsy, Roma and Irish Traveller communities – are underrepresented as leaders within successful free school projects. Communities are largely unaware of the free schools programme and the Department for Education does not appear to have given much attention to the engagement of such underrepresented communities.
Francis Gilbert takes an interesting view on the reason for this, believing that the policy is very flawed and favours wealthier parents. A policy that helps wealthier parents is in serious danger of exacerbating the persistent educational inequalities faced by socio-economically ‘disadvantaged’ students. In my opinion, for free schools to fail to recruit students that would most benefit from this policy negates the achievements made by free schools in their GCSE results. Of course wealthier students will achieve better results; that is not credit to the new wave of schooling! In turn, this does not persuade me to believe that greater school autonomy in admission policies is the best way forward in education.
Education in many ways is becoming more and more like a business transaction, where only the wealthy can participate effectively and thus reap all the benefits. However, all taxpayers pay into this idea of compulsory education until 18 so all members of society should reap the benefits!
For More Information:
Race On The Agenda: http://www.rota.org.uk/webfm_send/180
London School Network: Francis Gilbert’s article: http://www.localschoolsnetwork.org.uk/2012/11/new-research-shows-that-free-schools-are-not-recruiting-minority-and-disadvantaged-students/?subscribe=success#subscribe-blog
*Disadvantage is in quotation marks because I do not completely agree with the use of this word and think it is time we come up with an alternative word.