New Schools Network to close after losing free schools contract

Charity says its original mission 'has been achieved' as board announces plans to wind up operations

Charity says its original mission 'has been achieved' as board announces plans to wind up operations

The New Schools Network is to close down after losing its role as the government’s flagship support provider for new free schools, it has been announced.

The board of trustees said they would wind down the charity’s operations after 13 years of existence. It currently employs six staff, who will go through the redundancy process.

It comes after the charity lost its government contract to support free schools to Premier Advisory Group following a re-tendering process. They had held the contract since 2010.

The deal was worth £1.485 million over up to three years, according to government documents, with the new contractor stating it would receive around £500,000 a year. Four NSN staffmembers transferred to PAG as part of the deal.

NSN was recently selected as the preferred bidder to keep running the Academy Ambassadors scheme, which helps recruit people to trust boards, but has now withdrawn from the process and said the DfE would be “reviewing” the propgramme.

Accounts show the charity received more than £2 million in DfE grants in 2020-21, and only £7,680 in donations.

The NSN was founded in 2009 by Rachel Wolf, a former adviser to Michael Gove who went on to work in Downing Street and now leads the lobbyists Public First.

The charity also had a string of directors with close links to the Conservative governments.

They include Nick Timothy, a former Home Office aide who went on to serve as chief of staff to Theresa May in Downing Street, Luke Tryl, a former adviser to Nicky Morgan and Mark Lehain, who is now a special adviser at the Department for Education.

More recently however, the charity recruited its directors from within. Former director Unity Howard, and current boss Sophie Harrison-Byrne had both worked at the charity for some time.

NSN heralds ‘thriving free schools community’

In a statement released today, the organisation said it had supported the creation of 610 free schools, as well as more than 200 still in the pipeline.

The NSN said there was now “a thriving free schools community right across the country, which brings innovation and academic excellence to the system”.

They pointed to free schools’ “popularity with parents”, and mentioned King’s Leadership Academy Warrington, XP in Doncaster, Reach Feltham in Hounslow, Derby Pride Academy, and Lighthouse School in Leeds, which they said were “some of the very best schools in the country”.

“With free schools now a fully embedded and established part of the education system, NSN’s original mission to cement the role of free schools has been achieved.”

David Ross, chair of NSN, said the organisation had “played a central role in education reform for the last 12 years and this has not been an easy decision”.

“But we are proud of the role we have played over the years and the legacy we leave – both in terms of supporting free schools that have raised the bar in standards, and improved education forever, and by changing the face of academy governance through the Academy Ambassadors programme, working in particular to support some of the highest need trusts.

“NSN has been a pioneering force for good, improving standards for hundreds of thousands of pupils and creating strong bonds between schools, staff, parents, and those outside education.”

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