New Schools Network

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The New Schools Network is a charity set up in 2009 to drive the growth of free schools in England.

The Guardians Tom Clark suggested that the role offered to the New Schools Network 'potentially puts it in a position of influence over the new generation of schools, since it will be advising parents and teachers as they fill out the forms in which they must specify their educational aims'.[1]


Learning from US education reformers

The impetus for the New Schools Network was a fact-finding trip to New York by former Conservative Party education advisor, Rachel Wolf.[2] Her mission for the Party in 2008 was to study the city’s charter school reforms. She took inspiration from Joel Klein and was keen to learn from his experience, asking for advice on ‘convincing’ arguments to persuade the public and journalists of the case for privately run schools. Klein declined an offer from Wolf to be on the Network’s council. Instead James Merriman of the New York Charter School Center became an adviser to his British counterparts.

The New Schools Network is similar in function to the New York City Charter School Center: to privately lobby, publicly campaign, but also to offer practical help to new school providers.

A lobbying vehicle for government

The New Schools Network has enjoyed a close relationship with the Department for Education, particularly under Michael Gove.

Founder director, Rachel Wolf was an adviser to the Conservative Party education team under Gove. Wolf was also ‘helped out’ early on at the Network by another of Gove’s inner circle, Dominic Cummings.

And in June 2010, to get the charity off the ground, the Network was also controversially handed half a million pounds by Gove’s department.[3] Within weeks of Gove becoming Education Secretary, Cummings was urging officials to stump up the funds without delay: ‘Labour has handed hundreds of millions to leftie orgs if u guys cant navigate this thro the bureauc then not a chance of any new schools starting!!’ he wrote.

With the shared personnel and government support, the New Schools Network feels like an extension of Gove’s department. Spectator editor Fraser Nelson admitted Gove uses it to further his agenda.

Secret donors supporting the free school agenda

As well as government support, the Network also receives funding from the private sector. It refuses to disclose its backers, though: ‘We have donors,’ Wolf said, ‘who wish to remain anonymous.’

Potential conflicts of interest

The Liberal Conspiracy blog noted in November 2009 that:

Of the organisation’s nine listed trustees and advisers, six have a direct interest in diferrent elements of the government’s existing academies programme. Four – Sir Bruce Liddington (EACT) , Baroness Sally Morgan, Amanda Spielman (Both Ark Schools) and Christine Homer (David Ross Foundation/Havelock Academy) – are directly involved in organisations that are operating/opening academy schools. Spielman and Homer are both trustees of the New School Network, Liddington and Morgan are listed as advisers.[4]



  • Rachel Wolf - former director, and until her departure in 2013, the UK's chief free school lobbyist.[7]Wolf remained at the helm until 2013, when she returned to New York to work with Joel Klein at the new education arm of Murdoch’s News Corp, Amplify.


Its trustees have been drawn from a mix of academy school operators and City figures. People like the financier Michael George and Justin Dowley, described as ‘one of the wiliest foxes in finance’.


Lobbying firms



  1. Tom Clark, New Schools Network lacks transparency, The Guardian, 6 July 2010.
  2. Sian Griffiths, Me and my 350 schools, Sunday Times, 21 February 2010.
  3. Gove: ‘Free Schools will enable excellent teachers to create new schools and improve standards for all children.’, Department for Education, 18 June 2010.
  4. Unity, Tory Michael Gove offers support for controversial school programme, Liberal Conspiracy, 10 November 2009.
  5. About Us - Our Team, New Schools Network, accessed 9 June 2011.
  6. Policy Exchange names former Tory election candidate as new deputy director, Public Affairs News, 7 April 2011, accessed 9 June 2011
  7. About Us - Our Team, New Schools Network, accessed 16 August 2010.
  8. About Us - Our Team, New Schools Network, accessed 16 August 2010.
  9. About Us - Our Team, New Schools Network, accessed 16 August 2010.
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