Education Jul 24 2010

Questions for the New Schools Network

Just discovered this organisation –The Other TaxPayers Alliance – interested in ‘fair’ rather than ‘low’ taxes. One of its current projects is to discover how the New schools Network, a registered charity, was given £500,000 by Michael Gove to deliver the government’s flagship policy of helping parents start their own ‘free’ schools.

There are several questions about the NSN that need answering, not least about lack of transparency and the direct transfer of government funds to an organisation started by one of Michael Gove’s ex advisers, Rachel Wolf, and currently being helped out by another, Dominic Cummings. Both these questions were well put in a Guardian article earlier this month.

For those who don’t know, the first step for anone interested in starting a new school must be to contact the New Schools Network. This is presumably because the network can direct parents or others to one of the many other organisations waiting in the wings to make money out of the outsourcing of education.

One group of parents I know have been working with their local authority for several years to find a site for a new school. They phoned the Department for Education after the election to ask what the new procedure was for advancing their project. They were told to phone the NSN, who told them they didn’t know anything about working with local authorities and if any parents wanted to go down that route, it would take ‘a very long time.’

However it is hard to get clear answers either from the charity or from the Department for Education about who else funds this supposedly independent charity – there are apparently other private donors, who would rather remain anonymous.

So The Other Tax Payers Alliance has put in a FOI request, to be responded to by August 5 asking to see the NSN business case, requesting evidence that a fair procurement process was followed before the contract was awarded, and also a guarantee that none of the other funders of the New Schools Network stand to benefit from the promotion of the free schools policy.

Meanwhile North London teacher Ken Muller has put in further FOI request probing how many groups have applied to become free schools, who they are, where they are, what sort of curriculum they plan to follow and the identities of any private businesses contracted to provide services to these schools.

The government claims the first free schools will be up and running by September 2011, which means if they are to follow the present  Admissions Code, as we are frequently told they will, parents will need to be putting in their applications by the end of October this year and somebody, somewhere, must have the answers to these questions now.

3 Responses to “Questions for the New Schools Network”

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  2. Fiona Millar says:

    Yes and until recently this school was being used on the NSN website as an example of a ‘free school’ although I notice today that it has been removed. Presumably if the LA has the money it can still open its own schools but how many will be able to do this without getting the capital funding from central government, with the associated strings attached? Fiona

  3. Laura says:

    Elm Green School in Lambeth is a good example of a school opened by parents through the Local Authority. Naturally it takes longer than just randomly opening a school in a disused shop but it is a sustainable model that really helped address place shortages in the area. I despair that the NSN could not provide information on the LEA procedures that enables this. A sure sign they anything but an independent advisory body.

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