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24.04.12

Free schools take fewer deprived pupils

Three-quarters of free schools take on fewer deprived pupils than the local average, Department of Education data demonstrates. Of the 24 free schools that opened last autumn, 18 took a smaller number of pupils who were eligible for free school meals than other schools across the local authority.

Ministers maintained that free schools would not disproportionately benefit better-off families, and that the aim of the scheme was to bring together deprived children with those who would have otherwise gone to private schools.

The figures were obtained by Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East, through parliamentary questions and relate to the academic year 2011-12.

She said: “In future, we will have to be careful when assessing the performance of free schools, as they have a higher proportion of children from wealthier backgrounds,” and added that she was worried that the schools “diverted funds from where they are most needed”.

A spokesperson from the Department for Education said the free schools programme was “still in its early days”.

“Many of these schools still only have one year group, so it is far too early to draw any firm conclusions from these figures. Indeed, we can expect their cohorts to change considerably over time as the schools become known to more groups of people locally.”

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