New Schools Network: questions for Michael Gove
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:
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?
At 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: http://bit.ly/9ziO9o)
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