Monthly Archives: October 2011


Why Don’t Students Like School: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom

Professor Willinghams analysis admired by Professor Wiliam


Professor Dylan Wiliam highly recommends this book-a must read- he says, for teachers. In “Why Don’t Students Like School?” Professor Daniel Willingham, a highly regarded cognitive scientist teaching at the University of Virginia, poses nine questions that a teacher might want to ask a cognitive scientist beginning with the question in the title and then answers each, citing empirical studies and suggesting ways for teachers to improve their practice accordingly. But Professor Willingham’s answers apply just as well outside the classroom.  Indeed anyone who cares about how we learn should find his book valuable reading.  We know that many pupils, perhaps most, are bored by their school work. So why don’t students like school? According to Professor Willingham, one major reason is that what school requires students to do- think abstractly – is in fact not something our brains are designed to be good at or to enjoy. When we confront a task that requires us to exert mental effort, it is critical that the task be just difficult enough to hold our interest but not so difficult that we give up in frustration. When this balance is struck, it is actually pleasurable to focus the mind for long periods of time. For an example, just watch a person beavering away at a crossword or playing chess in a noisy public park. But schoolwork and classroom time rarely keep students’ minds in this state of “flow” for long. The result is boredom and displeasure. The challenge, for the teacher, is to design lessons and exercises that will maximize interest and attention and thus make students like school at least a bit more. But this doesn’t mean ignoring the basics and simply focusing on the fun element. Professor Willingham notes that students cannot apply generic “critical thinking skills” to new material unless they first understand that material. And they cannot understand it without the requisite background knowledge.  Indeed he advocates teaching old-fashioned content as the best path to improving a student’s reading comprehension and critical thinking. Trying to use “reading strategies”  for example,  like searching for the main idea in a passage, will be futile if you don’t know enough facts to fill in what the author has left unsaid. Here, as always Willingham shows how experiments support his claims.  As one reviewer says ‘This perhaps makes him something of an iconoclast, since 21st-century educational theory is ruled by concepts like “multiple intelligences” and “learning styles.”’  The book builds chapter by chapter, taking the reader through cognitive theory explaining it succinctly and applying the author’s expertise to the teaching arena.


What about drilling ie repetition?  Does it work?  The answer is yes, apparently, because research shows that practice not only makes a skill perfect but also makes it permanent, automatic and transferable to new situations, enabling more complex work that relies on the basics. Another question: “What is the secret to getting students to think like real scientists, mathematicians, and historians?” According to Willingham, this goal is too ambitious: Students are ready to understand knowledge but not create it. For most, that is enough. Attempting a great leap forward is likely to fail.  What about personalised learning and creating learning styles for individual learners? Willingham is dismissive. The trendy notion that each person has a unique learning style comes under an especially withering assault. “How should I adjust my teaching for different types of learners?” asks Mr. Willingham’s hypothetical teacher. The disillusioning reply: “No one has found consistent evidence supporting a theory describing such a difference. . . . Children are more alike than different in terms of how they think and learn.”  It turns out that while education gurus were promoting the uplifting vision of all students being equal in ability but unique in “style,” researchers were testing the theory behind it. In one experiment, they presented vocabulary words to students classified as “auditory learners” and “visual learners.” Half the words came in sound form, half in print. According to the learning-styles theory, the auditory learners should remember the words presented in sound better than the words presented in print, and vice-versa for the visual learners. But this is not what happened: Each type of learner did just as well with each type of presentation. Why? Because what is being taught in most of the curriculum — at all levels of schooling — is information about meaning, and meaning is independent of form. “Specious,” for instance, means “seemingly logical, but actually fallacious” whether you hear it, see it or feel it out in Braille. Willingham makes a case that the distinction between visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners (who supposedly learn best when body movement is involved) is a specious one. At some point, no amount of dancing will help you learn more algebra.  Willingham’s analysis is thought provoking and manages to de-bunk a number of myths   explaining how we  learn and how  teachers ought to teach.



Responding to Sir  Peter Lampls call in the Times on 25 October for independent schools to provide more bursaries to disadvantaged pupils


Sir, I doubt that increasing bursaries is the best way to improve access for our most disadvantaged pupils to our best schools and universities. Bursaries will benefit a relatively small number of pupils and will serve to damage the state schools from which pupils are poached.

Independent schools with charitable status have a duty to satisfy the public benefit requirement and it is up to the trustees to determine how schools deliver that benefit. There is more that the independent sector can do to break down the barriers between the sectors, but trying to push trustees to pursue one course of action is counter-productive, as the one thing they prize above all else is their independence.

Patrick Watson

London SW8




But autonomy works only within a robust accountability framework


In 2007 a Sutton Trust report ‘Blairs Education’ found that the degree of autonomy that a school enjoys does have a direct effect on pupils test scores, according to the OECD Pisa report. It stated ‘Independent schools tended to do better than government schools, across a range of countries, even when the social background of pupils is taken into account’. Similarly, government funded private schools tended to do better than  government run schools and   the report concluded that the likely explanation for this was ‘the relative freedom schools enjoy from  government control’

The  later OECD report (Pisa 2009) again found that in countries where schools have greater autonomy over what is taught and how students are assessed, the students tend to perform better.

But accountability and the regulatory regime are important. Autonomous schools must work within an accountability framework to be effective. Autonomous schools operating within an unregulated or poorly regulated system are almost certainly  not,  based on the evidence, the answer to raising standards.

In countries where schools account for their results by posting achievement data publicly, schools that enjoy greater autonomy in resource allocation tend to show better student performance than those with less autonomy.

However, the report found ‘in countries where there are no such accountability arrangements, schools with greater autonomy in resource allocation tend to perform worse. At the country level, the greater the number  of schools that have the responsibility to  define and elaborate their curricula and  assessments, the better the performance  of the entire school system, even after  accounting for national income’.

The World Bank also stresses the importance of autonomy with accountability. The book ‘Making Schools Work New Evidence on Accountability Reforms Barbara Bruns, Dean Filmer, Harry Patrinos; World Bank;2011 drawing on new evidence from 22 rigorous evaluations in 11 countries, examines how strategies to strengthen accountability relationships in school systems have affected schooling outcomes. The authors   provide a succinct review of the rationale and impact evidence for three key lines of reform: (1) policies that use the power of information to strengthen the ability of students and their parents to hold providers accountable for results; (2) policies that promote schools’ autonomy to make key decisions and control resources; and (3) teacher incentives reforms that specifically aim at making teachers more accountable for results.

A report this year from CFBT Education Trust ‘A Thousand Flowers’ looked at schools that are government funded and privately provided, around the world,  and how policy makers and providers operate successfully within  the context of  recent supply-side reforms. The authors found that among the key characteristics for effective systems that host these  private, government funded providers  were ‘accountability structures that set high standards and have the capacity to intervene where there is underperformance’ and ‘ highly autonomous schools with the freedom to innovate’.

So, taking into account evidence from the OECD, World Bank and the CfBT report the bottom line is: Autonomy and accountability go together: greater autonomy in decisions relating to curricula, assessments and resource allocation tend to be associated with better student performance, but this is particularly the case when schools operate within a culture of accountability.


University Technical Colleges

Cross Party Support but NUT opposed

No surprise there then


The new University Technical Colleges appear to be an exciting addition to the supply side in education, increasing choice, opening up more opportunities in practical education  and attracting cross party support. All UTCs are supported by a University and very often an FE college. The JCB Academy in Rocester, Staffordshire, which opened in September 2010, was the first of a network of UTCs. It offers high-quality engineering and business education  to students aged 14 to 19. There are now 16 new university technical colleges approved, and up to nine may open in September 2012.  It is estimated that 10,000 young people will be attending UTCs by 2015. The idea began with Lords Dearing and Baker and ,following the formers death, has been advanced by Lord Baker with considerable  determination and success.  Speaking in Parliament recently Stephen Twigg, the Shadow Education Secretary, said: “I congratulate the university technical colleges and free schools that have secured approval today. UTCs are an exciting innovation modelled, as he said, on the highly successful JCB academy in Staffordshire established under the previous Government.” Twigg will deliver his first speech next month at an event organised by the Charity Edge which promotes practical education  titled “Engaging pathways for all”    in which he is likely to  reiterate his backing for the UTC initiative. Significantly, this Government is building on two key initiatives  that began under the last Labour government-Academies and UTCs.

But no surprise that the NUT opposes reform, its what it does best . It  is the most reactionary of unions.  Christine Blower, the General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers, attacked the proposals for 16 new University Technical Colleges.  She said: “University Technical Colleges are extremely divisive and will force young people to make choices about the direction they wish to travel in at far too early an age. Separating ‘technical’ or ‘vocational’ education from mainstream schools will lead to a two tier system with technical schools being potentially seen as the poor cousin. We need an education system which opens up a range of different routes for young people to progress into further education, training and employment and keeps their options open, not closes them down at age 14 or 16.

“Breaking up state education into a patchwork system of providers will have severe consequences for everyone. Education should not be subjected to the ideology of the market place. We need to see a return to properly planned school place provision, based on clearly identified need and overseen by the local authority.”

Providing more choice for pupils  with practical skills  is surely a good thing providing that these  offer both core academic disciplines along with robust vocational  qualifications, which is the intention . Breaking up the state education system? I think not.



JRF report says aspirations among young are realistic but poor knowledge of pathways into work


Social mobility is high on the political agenda of all parties now. One charge made against some state schools, particularly those serving the most disadvantaged communities, is that there is a poverty of expectations, sometimes termed ‘the soft bigotry of low expectations’. With such low expectations pupils aspire to not very much and this mind set becomes embedded.

There is a basic assumption, informing public policy, that aspirations are low among disadvantaged communities and, so the argument goes, if you raise aspirations educational achievement will therefore increase. This will deliver in turn greater equity and  make the UK economy more competitive. Public policy has a key  role in ensuring that these ends are attained.  However, recent research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation places a large question mark over these assumptions. Its report ‘The influence of parents, places and poverty on  educational attitudes and ‘aspirations-October 2011) finds that ‘Young people had high aspirations; they wanted to go to university and attain professional and managerial jobs in greater numbers than the labour market could fulfil. There was little evidence of fatalism faced with depressed labour markets, or of a belief that not working was acceptable.’ The report examined the educational and career aspirations of young people growing up in diverse areas of disadvantage in Nottingham, London and Glasgow. The period between ages 13 and 15 was critical, and the importance of place was underlined by changes in ambitions in the three areas over this time.  The report found that Young people’s aspirations were not predominantly unrealistic. At 13, the ideal occupations of many were drawn from sport or celebrity, but this had waned by age 15. It was not the case that large numbers of young people wanted to become pop stars or Premiership footballers. However, among young people and their families with high aspirations, knowledge of the pathways through education and employment to realise these ambitions was limited. The data showed that places with a shared status of deprivation could be quite different in their social makeup and how this played out in people’s life experiences. Generalisations about attitudes, beliefs and behaviours surrounding aspirations in disadvantaged communities are unhelpful, and need to be avoided.  Factors affecting aspirations, whether deriving from school, place or family, tended to be consistent and reinforcing, pushing young people towards or away from fulfilling high aspirations. In Nottingham and London, they emerged at school level because the school was so strongly rooted in the community. The more economically diverse school in Glasgow showed these patterns at a smaller scale. But the overall consistency of factors was striking across all three settings.  However, patterns of forming aspirations are likely to vary widely across the UK. Areas of greater and lesser deprivation, and with different demographical and social factors, would potentially have other, quite specific outcomes in terms of aspirations. This study deliberately looked at distinctive areas, expecting them to have specific characteristics. But it was not exhaustive, and other challenges could be found in places with different characteristics.  The authors conclude ‘that policy to increase social mobility needs to go beyond assumptions about certain communities having low aspirations – it needs to tackle barriers to fulfilling them. Policies also need tailoring to the specifics of areas. Better information is required to support young people in understanding how schooling, post-compulsory education and work fit together.’

Again there is a clear message here about how important attitudes and choices are aged 13 and how limited, as things stand, is  the knowledge  among aspirational young people  of the pathways through education and employment. We come back again to the crucial  importance of good quality, independent, professional advice and guidance as well as targeted mentoring of  our most disadvantaged pupils at this crucial age. Many schools, however, will in the future, only be giving very limited face to face advice to pupils at this age, opting  instead for the cheaper, less effective web based advice .

If the Government is serious about its social mobility agenda and improving access for our most disadvantaged to our best universities then it will have to change its approach  and radically improve the support and guidance afforded to young pupils at the age of 13



The poorest rely on the private sector for their education


Professor James Tooley, of Newcastle University, delivered the E.G. West Memorial Lecture on  October 19th under the auspices of the IEA.

In his address, Professor Tooley sketched the life and work of E G West  who challenged the accepted notions about profit in education – and stated the case for a free, unrestricted market. Professor E. G. Wests ‘Education and the State’ (originally published in 1965 by the IEA) was regarded as the 20th Century’s most influential work on the free market in education.

Tooley highlighted the fact that most education in Victorian times was delivered by profit making and voluntary organisations, including, particularly within the poorest communities. And most  young people were educated up to reasonable level of literacy and numeracy. Before Foster introduced the Education Act of 1870 ,the Newcastle Commission (1861) found only around 4.5% of the population were not being educated and  so the purpose of the Education Act was to address this issue, not, as is commonly thought now, to make the state responsible for universal elementary education. In fact, the Foster Act allowed  School Boards  to examine the provision of elementary education in their district and if there were not enough school places, they could build and maintain schools out of the rates. But Foster explicitly didn’t want the private and voluntary sectors to be crowded out by grant funded government schools, which is  what in effect  happened. A grant funded school would open up next to a privately funded school. Pupils would migrate to the free school, rolls and standards would drop in the privately funded school, and it would then be ordered to close. This is absolutely not what Foster intended.

Tooleys book The Beautiful Tree (Penguin, New Delhi) which was on the best-seller lists in India in 2010, builds on his ground-breaking research on private education for the poor in India, China and Africa. What Tooley set out to do was find out whether, in the poorest parts of the developing world, the poor were being educated as they were in Victorian times by private providers. He found that they were. Indeed in cities like Lagos in Nigeria 41% of pupils go to private schools, and these schools outperform state schools. He found this pattern across the developing world. In many of the poorest  and remotest areas private schools far outstripped state schools in terms of number of pupils and quality of provision.   Despite this, education aid is still largely channelled through state institutions, although our own DFID appears to be shifting its policies. Their officials and those who advise them   have been impressed by the fact that the poor rely heavily on private and non -state  players in developing countries  to access education. We seem to be witnessing a significant shift in DFID policy in this area.  About time too.



BSF Replacement

Worst off get priority in centrally procured school building programme


The Department for Education has launched a privately financed programme to provide school facilities. The programme is intended to address those schools in the worst condition.  Ministers may also take into account pressing cases of basic need (the requirement for additional school places) and other ministerial priorities. The programme is likely to include a mix of primary schools, secondary schools, special schools, sixth form colleges and alternative provision.  Maintained schools, voluntary aided schools, academies and sixth form colleges are eligible to apply for funding under the Priority Schools Programme. The programme is being procured centrally to secure best value for money.  What is interesting is that  the programme is about making schools fit for purpose and not about the doctrine behind the BSF, now regarded as overpriced, which was that building new schools would improve teaching and learning,  a doctrine  unsupported by evidence.

DFE expects construction costs to be about 20% cheaper per square metre than under BSF.  Lowest price is likely to be of greater importance in the tender process than under BSF.  The Department for Education (DfE) and Partnerships for Schools (PfS) expect to announce the outcome of applications in December 2011.  Those applications will then ‘be considered further in light of value for money requirements.’ DFE anticipates that the programme will support building or rebuilding the equivalent of 100 secondary schools.  Depending on the mix of schools (primary, secondary, SEN, sixth form colleges) it expects between 100 and 300 schools to be in the programme.  Applications are made electronically by local authorities on a schools’ behalf, along with (where relevant) dioceses/faith bodies and sixth form colleges/academies/academy chains.  The deadline for receipt of applications was 14 October 2011.  The DfE and PfS are considering the applications against a number of criteria. . If you wish your School to be included DFE suggests the school contact, first off, its local authority to see if it is being considered. If not the DFE will speak to them on the schools behalf.  If the local authority will not consider a schools inclusion then DFE   says it will accept a response from the governing body of the School with DFEs prior agreement via  DfE is clear that the Schools in the worst condition are those that require investment New maintenance strategies will deal with the future upkeep of schools. ICT infrastructure and buildings management systems will be procured as part of the buildings.  Other ICT ‘kit’ will not be provided through the programme.  The programme is split into groups of schools, with each group making up approximately 20% of the whole. Within each group there will be a number of batched schools projects.   The schools in the first group will commence procurement in the second quarter 2012 and will open in the academic year 2014-2015.  Delivery of the second group is expected to follow in the subsequent academic year, with the other groups following at yearly intervals.  Bidders are likely to have to name their supply chain when they submit a response to the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire.  The PQQ will be issued following responses to the OJEU notice.  DFE  expects to publish the OJEU notice for the first group of schools in the second quarter of 2012.


So what are the criteria for selection of schools into the programme?

The DfE’s first priority is to deal with schools in the worst condition and so poor condition is the prime criterion.  Shortcomings in the accommodation such as temperature and health and safety will then be taken into account and finally suitability for inclusion in a privately financed programme will be considered.  Schools must also demonstrate sufficient long term pupil demand.  Deliverability issues will be taken into account when selecting projects for each annual group.

How long will it take?

It is expected that centralised procurement and targeted dialogue will lead to shorter procurement times.  DFE is expecting procurement times (i.e. from issue of OJEU to financial close) of approximately one year.  Limiting the design work during procurement will also help.  Unlike the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme there will be no joint partnership vehicle such as a Local Education Partnership (LEP).  This will remove the need for some contractual documentation, again saving on negotiating time.  It will also save the costs of setting up the LEP investment structure.

What about revenue funding?

Revenue funding contributions will be agreed with each School and will be made annually, subject to inflationary adjustments, for the duration of the contract period, i.e. approximately 25 years.  As a rough guide Schools should be prepared to contribute between £50 and £60 for facilities management costs (including maintenance and cleaning) and between £10 and £20 for utilities, in each case per square metre, per year and excluding VAT.  The mechanism for covering these costs has yet to be considered.

The programme is open to free schools and, as we have said,   to academies too.  This means that local authorities should co-operate with schools now outside their control which could present a challenge. The basic  challenge for the private sector is to build at half the cost spent on BSF schools. This may serve to further expose just how costly the BSF scheme was (ie taxpayers might have been ripped- off  on  more than a few occasions!). New schools will be needed well into the future of course . By 2015 there will be 153,000 more primary school children and so between 2,500 and 5,000 classrooms will need to be built in the next three and a half years.



Islington –A Case study


Back in 2000 Islington was, and probably still is, widely regarded as the epi-centre of the liberal commentariat. But whereas the commentariat then enjoyed much about Islington, few wanted to send their children to its schools.

In 2000 the Labour government ordered Islington to outsource its education provision as its schools were some of the worst in London. Nine schools, eight Primary and one Secondary, were in special measures or had serious weaknesses. This meant around 14% of schools in the borough were failing to provide adequate education for children. By the end of Key Stage 4 only 26.5% of pupils achieved good GCSEs. Cambridge Education Ltd– part of Mott MacDonald – won the initial outsourced seven-year contract. Cambridge Education have since transformed the schools landscape. This irritates some- the ideologues and dogmatists, who believe that profit makers have no place in state education, but it certainly doesn’t irritate local parents.   More than 70% of pupils achieved at least five A*-C GCSEs in 2010 up from 27% in 2000. Provisional GCSE results for Islington’s schools in 2011 show that the number of pupils achieving 5 or more A* – C grade GCSEs has risen to 75 per cent.  19 per cent of Islington students scored top marks, gaining 3 or more A*- A grades.  Ofsted judged all the borough’s schools at least satisfactory, with 75% rated good or better, and one fifth judged outstanding. This is 22% above the national average. For sure, there  were some teething problems, and Cambridge Education had to take it on the chin initially losing £200,000 in revenue due to missed targets(imagine that happening to an LEA) but that is what accountability is all about. It takes time of course to transform individual schools, (a couple of years generally) and groups of schools but results in Islington bucked this trend. In 2001, Ofsted reported that “the tide has turned in Islington”, with “a sense of purpose and optimism instilled”. In short, exam results have improved every year now since 2000. Mark Taylor, Director of Schools at Cambridge Education considers what he thinks has led to the changes in Islington over the decade The main pillars he believes are people and vision. Taylor told MJ (Local Govt publication) “We’ve provided high-quality support for head teachers and schools including training and development, and we’ve given support according to need, so in inverse proportion to success.”  High-Quality evidence and data is crucial too. Taylor believes in getting qualitative data to schools and governors “so they could see how well their school was doing”. But this information and knowledge has little value unless you can use it to improve outcomes. The relentless focus all the way through is on outcomes. There has to be an analytical approach to evaluation which then informs a carefully differentiated support framework.   Support for teachers is important too in the form of continuing professional development and training across the board, creating a learning community, disseminating best practice and so on “from cradle to grave”. Taylor appreciates the indispensable role played by Heads, teachers , governors and of course, crucially,  parents  in Islington’s success story and the setting of high expectations, along with improving schools’ financial management, and a “focus on accurate self-evaluation by schools, so they knew how good they were and focused on what to do next”.  At the heart of all this though is building a network of sound working relationships among and between stakeholders. None more important, in this respect, than the relationship between Cambridge Education and the local authority.

Much nonsense is talked about how outsourcing reduces accountability. There are two types of accountability-short and long. Short accountability is delivered through a contractual relationship. So, these are the outcomes we want from you the contractor-you deliver these outcomes for an agreed fee. If you fail to deliver these outcomes then we have in place some sanctions-fines for instance, or the ultimate sanction-loss of the contract. Short and sweet.

Long Accountability, on the other hand,  is provided by the local authority, through elected Councillors who are periodically up for election and they seek in turn  to make local officials accountable to them for the service  and support they provide(with varying degrees of success).The most ‘accountable’ and transparent  systems then  surely   deliver both short and long accountability as, when  combined they guard against complacency, challenge directly  underperformance  and deliver a creative tension   ensuring that the needs of the consumers (rather than producers) ie pupils and parents, are paramount.

Cambridge Educations current contract lasts until 2013.



Known as a pragmatist- he is keen on looking closely at the evidence


We know that Stephen Twigg, the new Shadow Education Secretary, is keen on ensuring that evidence informs policies. He is comfortable with data. He was regarded as a competent Minister in the last Labour government –responsible, of course, for schools.  He said in a Commons debate earlier this year “Improving educational performance is actually about what happens at the school level and the local level. We know that, because we know that schools with very similar intakes that have very similar amounts of money spent on them perform very differently from each other. Improving educational performance cannot be only about the context or the amount of money that is spent, although clearly both those things matter.”

He continued “the head teacher in a school is critical. The quality of leadership around and below the position of head teacher is also important. Governors are important, too..” He is also a fan of the Teach First programme-” Teach First is a great programme and a great example of learning from another country, because it was modelled on a scheme in the US that enjoys strong cross-party support. Whatever else happens in the field of education policy, we should all continue to support and encourage the further expansion of the Teach First programme.” And having visited   a school run by not for profit Charter school chain KIPP in the United States he was impressed by the KIPP model. He appears to be pragmatic on the Swedish Free schools model  acknowledging that these schools  are popular with parents . But he  says that perhaps  it is “the case that the free schools have not delivered the national system-wide improvement in Sweden that their proponents originally anticipated”, . He also feels that there appears to be evidence that school autonomy does  indeed improve standards- although results achieved by autonomous  charter schools in the US  are mixed.

He added “ The dilemma that all of us who care about education policy face is how we best measure schools and how we ensure that that measurement does not distort choices.” And feels that the jury is still out on whether the E-Bacc is a good idea or not.

Most recently Twigg, in an interview with the Liverpool Daily Post, said Labour will embrace the government’s “schools revolution” providing certain tests are met.  He said “On free schools, I am saying that we need to apply a set of tests, that we are not going to take an absolute policy of opposing them. The tests should be: will the school raise standards for pupils and parents, will it contribute to a narrowing of the achievement gap between rich and poor, and what is the wider impact of that school?”

Twigg denies that this is a substantial departure from the policy adopted by his predecessor ,Andy Burnham

Overall, Twigg is a pragmatist and realises that many Labour supporters are not only  sympathetic to free schools but are involved in setting them up.


PS. 18 October  Twigg has just told Sky News that ‘There are very, very real concerns about the free schools policy, I share those concerns.’ Has he been sat on by the leadership?








New Schools Network critical of low approval rate

Are they benefiting the disadvantaged?


The DfE confirmed on Monday that it has signed off 79 proposals from private groups seeking to open new free schools, which are prohibited from being run directly for profit. This is made up of 55 new mainstream and 16-19 Free Schools and 13 new University Technical Colleges (UTCs).

These institutions will open in addition to the 24 that opened as part of a pilot wave of free schools last month.

Previous figures haven’t included the new UTCs which, apparently, are now being classed as Free schools, although the process leading to their establishment began with the last Labour government. Under the UTC plans, pupils will be able to opt out of mainstream schools at the age of 14 to enrol at a technical college and learn a trade.

The institutions –opening from 2012 onwards – will teach a range of courses including engineering, motor skills and business, alongside mainstream subjects.

Other Free schools in the pipeline include  so called  ‘Studio’ schools ,  ‘Alternative Providers’ and  ‘Special Free schools’ . It is thought that around 300 Free schools will be up and running by the end of this Parliament with over half of all Secondary schools by then  with Academy status.

As for London, at least 50 free schools will open in Londonwithin four years, according to the Education Secretary. He said tens of millions of pounds will also be spent on creating new schools or classrooms in boroughs where there is a shortage of places such as in Kingston, Sutton and Richmond in west London.

As part of the education expansion plans, “super-grammars” could also be created by expanding existing grammar schools.

Eight of the 24 free schools which opened last month are in London and Mr Gove believes they will prove hugely popular with parents and pupils.

What is sometimes forgotten in all this is just how many apparently good bids have failed to make the grade, and have not been approved by the DFE, leaving some parents groups confused and frustrated. Groups have complained to the Department and the New Schools Network believing that their bids have failed not because they have not met the quality threshold but because of a funding shortage.  Interestingly, the New Schools Network, a charity helping develop free school proposals, has been critical of the relatively low number of applications approved. “The speed at which the number of Free Schools is growing illustrates the interest that exists in improving local education,” Rachel Wolf, the charity’s director, and former Gove aide, said in a statement. “However we believe too few have been approved. Based on the calibre and volume of proposals we have seen, we think that the DfE has been over cautious in some of their assessments.   “As the policy develops we hope to see a significant increase in the number of groups being approved,” she added.

There has been plenty of debate about what kind of pupils these schools will ultimately serve, with some competing claims in recent weeks about the original 24 Free Schools now open.

A recent Conservative Party press release claimed that “Half of the 24 schools are located in the most deprived 30 per cent of communities in the country”

This seems contradict a statement made by the Guardian arguing that “Research shows that the 10-minute commuting area around the first wave of free schools is dominated by middle-class households”. The data from both sources makes for some interesting reading, and it is easy to see why reports on free schools have been somewhat contradictory The Department for Education, on whose research the Conservatives based their claims, and the research company hired by The Guardian, CACI, use very different methods to analyse the economic prosperity of the areas surrounding the new Free Schools.

CACI used as their basic unit of measure the area around the school within a 10 minute commute by car in rush hour. As a result, the number of households included in their analysis varies massively from school to school – from only 648 households investigated in relation to Priors Free School in Warwickshire to 102,611 included in relation to ARK Atwood Academy, Westminster.  The Department for Education uses a more traditional unit, the Lower Super Output Area (LSOA). LSOAs are rigid geographical units with an average population of 1,500 people and are a common unit of measurement used by the Department for Education when dealing with the area surrounding primary schools. Not only are their understanding of catchment areas different, but so is the way in which they measure relative economic wealth.  The Department for Education uses a measure of economic prosperity called an Indices of Multiple Deprivation (IMD), which combines a number of indicators, both social and economic, in order to place households and districts in relation to the rest of the country. CACI provides a lot of data on the individual schools, including the average house price and the average income bracket. Unsurprisingly, these differences lead to rather different results .