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We cannot judge without evidence

Schools minister Lord Nash is being accused of misleading the UK Parliament by claiming that independent, autonomous free schools are performing better than other state schools, based on a sample of 24 free schools assessed by Ofsted, England's schools inspectorate. There are good grounds to support that accusation, but the validity of Ofsted's findings on performance (used by both parties) has not been contested.

When inspecting mainstream state schools and making judgements about students' achievement, inspectors draw on a wide range of performance data since the last inspection at that school. This data simply isn't available for free schools, which haven't been operating long enough and whose students come from a number of contributory schools. Inspecting free schools currently involves making highly speculative judgements about student progress from short observations. That is a totally inadequate basis for judging overall achievement. This inadequacy needs to be stressed publicly by ministers and by Ofsted itself. But as yet no such admission has been made.

Colin Richards, Spark Bridge, Cumbria.

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