The key point to draw from the day was the need for greater collaboration between all levels of education. Jennifer spoke about the role of free schools in raising social mobility. Free schools are set up in response to local demand and are designed to meet the specific needs of the local community, and autonomy over curriculum and teacher recruitment means free schools have the ability to tailor their teaching to specific needs of their pupil cohort.
To help new parts of England benefit from the free school policy, wave 13 specifically targeted free schools that need intervention, meaning resources are put into the communities that most need them. Wave 14 will continue this, focussing on schools in ‘social mobility cold spots’ that will bring innovation to local education. As a result, schools are being opened in communities where they are desperately needed so all have access to a high-quality education.
The effects of wave 13 and 14 will not be felt immediately as schools will not be ready to open until at least 2020, however there are already plenty of examples of free schools working to improve social mobility, such as Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford, one of the highest performing schools in the country, where latest results secured a P8 score of 1.47 for disadvantaged students (a score of 1.47 means that pupils are performing a grade higher than expected at GCSE).
Elsewhere, the London Academy of Excellence delivers a curriculum focused on helping students gain entry to the most prestigious universities. The school has already achieved impressive results, being named The Sunday Times Sixth Form of the Year and outperforming a number of prestigious independent schools with 1 in 10 A level students securing offers for Oxford or Cambridge in 2019.
Schools such as The Island Free School and The Swanage School have transformed the local education landscape for their communities. They are both rated Good by Ofsted and are improving attainment in rural communities.
The Fermain Academy, an Alternative Provision (AP) free school in Staffordshire, has recently become the first Outstanding AP school in the region. The school is helping raise attainment and improve life chances for the most vulnerable pupils in the area.
Discussions at the Westminster Education Forum were an opportunity for all sides of education to come together to talk over these challenges. All speakers were in agreement that greater collaboration will be needed moving forward; indeed, CEO of Olive Academies, Mark Vickers, mentioned that the success of their AP schools had been down to strong relationships with the local authority and local mainstream schools.
These examples show free schools are working hard to improve social mobility in the most vulnerable communities in England. The continued targeted approach in wave 14 will ensure that free schools will carry on striving to improve social mobility and enter communities that are yet to benefit from the programme. The team are NSN looks forward to working with more groups throughout wave 14 to support new schools who will raise attainment and improve social mobility.