What’s more, the Key Stage 5 data that was also released yesterday shows the continued success of free schools after GCSE. Nearly a quarter of students in free schools who entered for one or more A level achieved grades AAB or better, more than at any other school type and significantly higher than the national average of 19.7%.
These follow up the great results seen last year, where free schools continued to record better results at Key Stage One and Phonics than all other schools. In fact, the only assessment stage where free schools did not outstrip other schools was at Key Stage 2, where they recorded results in line with the national average.
Of course, an important caveat here is that the pool of schools publishing results at every key stage is still far smaller than other school types. This means that while we can see these results as encouraging signs of success, these are still early stages for the programme.
However, we can be confident that free schools have been consistently popular. Analysis that we published last week proved that for the past five years primary free schools received more first preference applications per place available than any other school type. In addition, for the most recent academic year three of the top ten most popular primary schools were free schools.
This popularity can be seen at the secondary stage as well, where free schools have been more likely to be oversubscribed than other schools for the past four years. What’s especially interesting here is that secondary free schools are also more likely to have a higher proportion of economically disadvantaged students than the national average.
Encouragingly, research published by the NFER and the Sutton Trust proved that disadvantaged students were more likely to perform better in free schools than other schools. This is particularly promising as the most recent free school wave was targeted towards areas of specific underperformance across the country. In these areas, disadvantaged pupils are too often left behind as their more affluent peers start to pull away; free schools can be instrumental in making sure this doesn’t happen.
This is a real opportunity for the free school movement. We’re expecting to hear more information about the next application window shortly, and groups from the most recent wave are being invited to interview at the moment. There is growing momentum around the free school programme, and an understanding of how it can be used to provide a higher quality of education for young people across the country. If free schools can continue to drive school improvement in these areas, we could see them make a real difference in communities that desperately need them.