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Free School ‘evidence of demand’ not validated by the DfE

posted Mar 13, 2011, 11:19 AM by Tim Dix

The Hertfordshire Free School being promoted by the “We Need a School” group (WNAS), which is attempting to build a secondary school for 800+ children and 100+ staff on green belt land in or around the small villages of Woolmer Green and Knebworth, had their Free School Stage 2 application approved formally by the Department for Education (DfE) on 14th January 2011.

In their stage 2 application the WNAS group stated that they have “attracted over 1200 names in support of a new local secondary school”.  On the 16th February our group the “Save Woolmer Green” Campaign sent a Freedom of Information (FoI) request (http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/evidence_of_demand_in_we_need_a) to the DfE to find out if they had received a copy of the WNAS petition which forms the mainstay of the WNAS Free School application and if so, had they indeed validated the petition.

We already knew that WNAS had received 1000 of their 1200 signatures by July 2009, which was before Free Schools were even on the cards as it was before the General Election.  Not only that but the school they were planning was going to be built in a completely different location.  We wanted to gain an understanding of where exactly WNAS have garnered this alleged support from.

We were shocked, however to discover that not only had the Department for Education failed to validate the petition they had not even received or requested a copy of it.  We find it inconceivable that the DfE simply wave through Free School applications to the business case stage without proper and rigorous substantiation of the ‘evidence of demand’.

We note that the DfE states “Evidence of demand and local support are essential components of a strong Business Case and the group will need to demonstrate that they have consulted widely on their proposal.” We ask that the Department for Education (DfE) obtain a copy of the WNAS petition and validate it as soon as possible to ensure that the WNAS support is bona fide.

We implore the DfE to examine the WNAS evidence carefully; In their Stage 2 application WNAS used admission figures from 2009 as evidence in support of their application even though more favourable 2010 figures were available at the time of their application. They said: “Knebworth has the biggest allocation problem with 33% not getting ANY of their 3 choices”.  Ignoring the fact that the other villages in the area had no such problem in 2009 or 2010, the very latest figures from 2011 show that 100% of children from Knebworth received a ranked choice and that overall around 96% of children in the villages concerned received a ranked choice. It is our opinion that the figures that WNAS have used are out of date and should not be relied upon as “Evidence of Demand” for a new secondary school. We request the DfE reconsider the WNAS “Evidence of Demand”.  Indeed, as there now appears to be no requirement at all for a new school we request that the DfE reject the “We Need a School” Free School application altogether.

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