For instance, 500 new free schools looks like acceleration – after all, 250 were set up in the last Parliament. But until September 2012 there were only 24 free schools. So at an average of 100 a year, the pace will be in line with the second half of the last term. Keep an eye out, too, for how many new free schools will be set up by existing education providers, rather than by parents, whom it was once hoped would be instrumental in founding many free schools.
Creating more academies will be down to voluntary conversions and to under-performing schools being taken over. There are now more than 20 times as many academies than in May 2010, largely a result of secondaries converting. A similar increase this Parliament will need primaries to convert in big numbers. However, small schools, lacking both experience and infrastructure to go it alone, have been reluctant to switch.
In terms of taking coasting and failing schools out of council control, there is an increasing awareness that the system does not currently have the capacity to do this wholesale. More than 3,000 schools “require improvement”, plus those rated “inadequate”. But there are not enough high-quality, willing trusts to take them all on, nor enough national leaders in education. So expect judicious selection of which schools will be targeted.
The Government’s ambition to ramp up the academies and free schools programme, then, is more limited than at first glance.