Free school data release delayed indefinitely

The expected release of application forms submitted by free schools in order to gain approval for opening has been delayed – and will now only be published “in due course”, the Department for Education (DfE) has said.

The department had previously said the original applications submitted by open free schools would be published before Christmas.

In the forms, free school proposers provided details of the expected demand for their schools and information on how they would be run.

In September, the DfE published the application forms for seven free schools, in response to specific freedom of information (FOI) requests.

At the same time, the department committed to publishing application forms for all free schools approved to open. But on December 24 it was confirmed that the information release has been delayed. Reasons for the hold-up have not been provided.

Separately, the latest round in a two-year FOI battle to secure the release of information about all free school applications, successful or not, will take place later this month.

Laura McInerney – now editor of Schools Week – has been granted an appeal after an earlier FOI tribunal ruled the DfE did not have to publish free school application forms and the government’s letters to applicants regarding the outcome of applications, as it placed a significant burden on the department’s resources. The request was first submitted in September 2012.

The case will now be reviewed at Upper Tier Tribunal on Thursday, January 22.

The free schools policy was also the subject of several briefings over the Christmas period, with the Labour party upping its attacks on the government’s flagship education policy.

The party released figures showing that approximately four out of every five free schools that opened in September were not full.

Of the 69 schools that responded to FOI requests submitted by Labour, only 12 had opened with the number of pupils for which they had been originally approved.

The party’s figures showed a gap of 2,564 between the number of pupils on roll and the schools’ planned admissions numbers.

In response a DfE spokesperson said: “These figures are misleading. It is perfectly normal for any new school to take time to fully establish itself.”

The spokesperson also said free schools were “predominantly” located in parts of the country with a shortage of places, and were only funded for the pupils they actually have on roll.