Free Schools: The Formative First Ten Years - An Analysis of the Impact of Free Schools Since 2010

Jenna Julius, Jude Hillary, Leticia Veruete-McKay

23 February 2021

To mark the ten year anniversary since the introduction of the free schools programme, New Schools Network (NSN) commissioned NFER to conduct an independent data-led investigation into what impact free schools have had since their introduction in 2010.

Our new report examines the impact that free schools have had since 2010 through the lens of three broad research questions:

  • How do pupils in free schools perform in terms of attainment outcomes compared to their peers in other types of schools, at different key stages of education?
  • Have free schools managed to establish themselves with families as a credible and popular choice for educating their children?
  • How do the demographics and supply dynamics of the teacher workforce in free schools compare to other schools?

Key Findings

  • The proportion of free schools judged outstanding by Ofsted was much higher than in other schools.
  • Free school pupils were disproportionally likely to come from an ethnic background, have a first language other than English, and be based in London.
  • Free school pupils achieved the equivalent of a tenth of a grade higher in each subject at KS4 (during Years 7 to 11 inclusive) compared to their peers in other schools, once pupil and school-level characteristics were controlled for.
  • However, at KS2 (that is, during Years 3 to 6 inclusive), free school pupils were seven per cent less likely to reach the expected standard in reading, writing and maths compared to peers in other schools.
  • Free schools continued to attract interest from parents.
  • Teacher retention in free schools was lower than in other schools. However, the report found evidence that attrition rates in other new non-free schools were also higher than the average.

Sponsor Details

New Schools Network