The claim

“Half of the 24 schools are located in the most deprived 30 per cent of communities in the country”

Conservative Party press release, 5 September 2011

The background

Nick Clegg went to great pains today to stress that the 24 Free Schools due to open this month must not be the “preserve of the privileged few”.

Trotting out figures from the Local Government’s rather unwieldy “deprivation index“, the Conservatives claimed that half of them will open in the 30 per cent worst off areas in England.

Are they right? FactCheck pulls out its red pen.

The analysis

Drilling down into England’s deprivation index we found that 11 of the schools are in the most deprived 30 per cent of the country (see graphic below).

FactCheck concedes that 11 is almost half of 24, so they’re not far off.

However, we found that only three schools are due to open in the poorest 10 per cent of England’s local authorities.

The three; Nishkam Free School, Ark Atwood and Rainbow, are all primary schools that together will offer 330 places in their first year of opening.

Nishkam, one of the seven religious Free Schools opening, is the first publicly funded Sikh “ethos” school in the Midlands.

FactCheck also discovered that nine of the 24 schools are set to open in the top 50 per cent better-off areas in England.

What’s more, five of them are existing independent schools applying for state funding under the Free School status. That would suggests many of the children who will benefit from the new schools enjoy fairly comfortable backgrounds.

Meanwhile, two of the independent schools, the specialist arts college Sandbach and the Maharishi primary school, are located in the top 20 per cent of England’s most wealthy areas.

The verdict

Michael Gove’s 24 Free Schools opening this month must be highly commended for their herculean efforts to open within 15 months.

But just less than half of them are opening in England’s 30 per cent most deprived areas. Seven are religious schools, five are existing independent schools and two are located in England’s richest counties.

It is clear the policy isn’t worthy of an A* this year.

Mr Gove is due to give the green light to the second wave of Free Schools for 2012 later this month. The Department for Education has received 281 applications, and today Nick Clegg said he wants to see all of those approved opening in poorer neighbourhoods.

FactCheck will keep its beady eyes open and report back on Year 2.

By Emma Thelwell