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New Schools Network: questions for Michael Gove

New Schools Network sign-up form

What a curious beast is the New Schools Network, the "independent charity" that championed the plans for "free schools" now being rushed through Parliament by Education Secretary Michael Gove. Click on the group's online form to "Sign up for more information" and a message appears:

"We may pass relevant details to the Department for Education so they can provide assistance. If this is a problem please email us on .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)."

How many other "independent charities" pass your details to government unless you email to object?
Then again, how many other charities get £500,000 from the government to implement the very policy they've been lobbying for?

Michael GoveAt a time when the Treasury promises to scrutinise – if not eliminate – every penny of spending, it seems incredible that this grant received so little attention, not least because NSN director Rachel Wolf, who set up the organisation just nine months ago, is a former advisor to Michael Gove. No wonder NSN cheerleaders were ecstatic when Gove got the education portfolio.

A few journalists, though, have raised questions. Tom Clark highlighted the network's lack of transparency in an excellent report rather buried within Education Guardian, which prompted an angry response from supporter Toby Young. And Jonathan Freedland, exploring the Coalition's weak points, wrote:

"There's more gold in them there hills. I wait to hear Gove face questions on the hefty £500,000 dollop of public money he just ladled on to the plate of the New Schools Network, a six-person thinktank run by one former special adviser to Gove and "helped out" by another. The NSN is meant to give advice to parents looking to set up their own "free school" – Gove's ideological pet project – but it's hard to see how their guidance could be wholly impartial."

We'd like some answers to those questions too, and have made the following Freedom of Information requests. The Department for Education has until 5 August 2010 to reply.

DfE relationship with New Schools Network

1) Please send me a copy of the business case with costings presented to the DfE by the New Schools Network (referred to in your letter here:

2) Please declare whether tenders were sought from other organisations for providing these services.

3) Please confirm whether you assessed the NSN's funders to ensure that there was no possibility of a conflict of interest with the DfE's work (eg to establish that none of the funders had a commercial interest in promoting free schools). If so, please supply a list of NSN's funders.

• The Anti-Academies Alliance newsletter has more about free schools and the New Schools Network.

Posted by Other TPA at 07:21pm on 21 July 2010
Tags: Education

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The angry response from supporter Toby Young is misdirecting to the Tom Clark article.

Posted by JK at 10:20pm on 21 July 2010

Toby Young’s response is in the comments below Tom Clark’s article. It stands out as the only one that’s critical.

Posted by Clifford Singer at 10:42pm on 21 July 2010

The Wolfs are worth watching. Wolf pere, Martin, has emerged from the recession as a powerful advocate of caution in cutting public spending. Much as I’d like to, he generally writes, now is not the time. It’s a stance that has caused frictions within the ever dryer and pro Tory Financial Times.
Wolf mere is a hawk: scrap national pay bargaining, education spending ‘doesn’t work’... The family mantra tends to be markets, but enthusiasm is sometimes tempered. Unfortunately, humility and self-doubt are not familiar in the Wolf household.
Daughter Rachel is strictly ideological, or rather has found a cause which will add to her career options. A mote of suspicion usually attaches to people in their early twenties who are passionate about schools. They haven’t been out of them long enough; they can’t see them through the chances open to their own children: they are usually monsters of dogmatic conviction.

Posted by David at 04:11pm on 23 July 2010

Delighted to see that you are on to this….this is a slow burner and needs to be outed asap. I look forward to the answers to your questions.

Posted by Grant Ford at 01:18pm on 24 July 2010

The problem with Free Schools is that you can’t go round dragging-and-dropping policy from anywhere and expect it to work in the same way. It’s so ambitious and blind. I read something by Alison Wolf on national pay bargaining which also went on about Sweden. Oh come off it, any fool knows the only way we’ll start resemble Sweden is if we close income inequality. Every education policy maker who wants to change things for the better should start from that point.

Any schools policy such as this which concerns ‘freedoms’ and ‘choice’ will change very little for the better.

Posted by Dennis at 11:30pm on 25 July 2010

The New Schools Network have a number of trustees/advisors who are from the same ‘network’; we have called this the John Adam St Gang (located in the area of John Adam st and Adam st, behind Charing Cross in London.)

Institutions they link to are the London School of Economics (LSE) founded at Adelphi House (1-11 John Adam St), ARK and Future Leaders (funded by ARK) both at 15 Adam St, the Royal Society for the Arts (RSA) 2-8 John Adam St.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a co-sponsor of the Academy School bill has also been at the LSE.

NSN trustees/advisors:

Sir Geoffrey Owen (LSE)
Amanda Spielman (ARK)
Barbara Harrison (has been CE of the Girls’ Day School Trust, established with assistance from the RSA)
Julian le Grand (LSE)
Sally Morgan (ARK)
Heath Monk (Future Leaders, funded by ARK and located at the same address)
Paul Marshall (ARK)
Theodore Agnew (Bradbury Agnew publishes the 1878 Whitakers Almanac, buried beneath Cleopatra’s Needle at the end of Adam St.)
Geoffrey Davis (Lewis Silkin) at 21 Buckingham st (runs off John Adam St)

There is more detail on this here:

Posted by Caz at 09:32am on 26 July 2010

IN his email Dennis makes the point that you can not compare the swedish system with ours unless we have income equality. Profs wilkenson & pickett in their well researched and referenced book “the spirit level” clearly show how important equality is when making comparisons. Although some spokespersons from the coalition have mentioned equality in their speechs the academies bill will create even more inequality and disadvantage the very children that recent gov initiaves have tried to redress.

Posted by wilfred phillips at 12:29pm on 26 July 2010

Have the DfE replied yet?

Posted by LN at 09:36am on 6 August 2010

No! Am writing to remind them they are now breaking the law.

Posted by Clifford Singer at 09:38am on 6 August 2010

This is an outrage… I’m sure there’s a news story here: DfE refuse to answer questions about New Schools Network! Let us know what they say.

Posted by LN at 12:11pm on 6 August 2010

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