The first batch (if that’s the right word) of free schools open this term – I must admit to being quite excited about them and especially the two new schools in Bradford. The Guardian, on the other hand wants us to believe that they’re all just for “middle class” children rather than for the working classes. And they’ve got our friends at CACI to do an ACORN classification to prove their point:
Research by the market analysts CACI finds that the ten-minute commuting area around the first wave of free schools is disproportionately dominated by middle class households - the areas are 57% better-off, educated and professional households compared with 42.8% for England as a whole.
Bang to rights there it would seem. But can we be so sure that this is the case? The Guardian do acknowledge that the new schools do ‘over-represent’ people from non-white ethnic groups – but I guess they’re middle class non-whites which might cause the Guardian to explode.
So let’s look at one of the schools – see if its admission policies match the catchment proposed by the Guardian. Here’s the gist of their admissions policy it is completely different from the catchment chosen for the CACI analysis:
(1) Children in public care, who apply to the school, will be offered a place.
(2) Children with a Statement of Special Educational Needs, who apply to the school,will be considered for a place without reference to the following over-subscription criteria. In addition to this, governors may grant a place to a child with a very exceptional medical or social need on the recommendation of an independent professional.
(3) Children whose siblings at the time of application will be within Key Stages 3 or 4 at the Academy. The term sibling includes legally adopted children, and step- and halfbrothers or sisters living at the same address.
(4) 75% of places will then be offered to
[i] to an inner catchment area which will include all addresses in post code zone BD7. If there is oversubscription, the Academy will offer places using fair banding and random selection to ensure all abilities are represented. If undersubscribed, the places will be offered to the postcodes listed in 4(ii)
[ii] The remainder 25% of places will be offered to an outer catchment area which will include all addresses in the post code zones BD1-6, 8,9,11,12,14,15 and 18. If there is oversubscription, the Academy will offer places using fair banding and random selection to ensure all abilities are represented. If undersubscribed, the places will be offered to postcode BD7.
This doesn’t read for me like a middle class bias – for those who don’t know Bradford, BD7 is like this:
The demographics and housing often found in this and similar postcodes, means this postcode is classed as crowded Asian terraces. These are known as type 37 in the ACORN classification and 0.51% of the UK's population live in this type.
So the Guardian are emphatically wrong about the new school in Bradford, admit to being wrong about the new school in Tower Hamlets and have based their analysis on admissions policies determined by the newspaper rather than going to the trouble of actually looking at the admissions policies of the schools themselves.
Even if we accept the basis for the Guardian’s analysis, the results are not massively skewed – after all approaching half the population in the catchments drawn by the newspaper is not middle class. And we’ve already noted how the catchments are over represented with ethnic minorities (which given one in Hackney, one in Tower Hamlets and one in Bradford isn’t really a surprise).
This is a flawed analysis of a catchment population (all households rather than households with children) based on assumptions about admissions policies and even then it barely manages to confirm the Guardian’s prejudices. And even the Guardian has to admit it might just be a little wrong:
The catchment areas used for this analysis may not reflect the actual distribution of pupils in the first wave of free schools - some of whom will be from further afield.