A research briefing from the Institute of Education says that free schools (non-profit-making, independent, state-funded schools introduced by the current government) are socially selective, failing to serve the neediest children in their areas.
The authors used data from the National Pupil Database for 2011/12, 2012/13, and 2013/14. For each type of school, they looked at the proportion of pupils eligible for free school meals (FSM), ethnicity, and the prior achievement of pupils.
They found that free schools have emerged in slightly more disadvantaged areas, as indicated by the proportion of FSM pupils in the neighbourhood compared to the rest of England: 22% compared with 17% at secondary level, and 18% compared with 16% at primary level. However, they are taking fewer FSM pupils than other local schools.
The study also showed that children who enter primary free schools are academically ahead of their peers. They have significantly higher levels of attainment than the average, not only for their neighbourhoods, but for the country as a whole. Prior achievement for pupils entering secondary free schools is the same as for pupils entering other local schools.
The other main finding was that free schools have emerged most strongly in neighbourhoods with high proportions of non-white children, compared with the national average, and that within those neighbourhoods they have admitted even higher proportions of non-whites. This may be a result of free schools with a declared religious affiliation.
Source: Research Briefing Summary: The Social Composition of Free Schools after Three Years (2014), Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies (LLAKES).