Free schools tend to be more popular among people from non-white backgrounds, according to a new study.
The report's authors conclude that free schools have tended to emerge in areas where there are high proportions of non-white children compared with the national average.
White children make up only a third of the primary free schools average - significantly below the proportion of the ethnicity present in neighbourhoods where the institutions are sited (50.9 per cent) and less than half the average for England (71.3 per cent).
In secondary schools, the trend is less apparent, with 61.7 per cent of white ethnicity compared with 66 per cent of the neighbourhood average and 78 per cent in the rest of England.
The research examined the neighbourhoods and enrolments of 88 primary and 63 secondary mainstream free schools that opened between 2011 and September 2013, using information from the National Pupil Database.
It provided evidence that supports the government's claim that free schools would emerge in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. The number of pupils entitled to free school meals (FSM) in these areas is higher than the national average - 18.3 per cent for primary schools and 22.1 per cent for secondary, compared with national figures of 15.9 per cent and 17.3 per cent.
However, the proportion of pupils attending the schools paints a different picture: 13.5 per cent of primary free school children and 17.5 per cent of pupils attending secondary free schools were entitled to FSM.
In addition, youngsters attending these institutions tend to be more academically advanced at primary level, achieving a higher mean Foundation Stage Profile score (0.33) than elsewhere in the neighbourhood and the rest of England, where it is close to zero.
Commenting on the findings, study author professor Francis Green said: "This outcome may be disappointing for the government, which had hopes that its free schools policy would be a vehicle for delivering social justice."
However, a Department for Education spokesman pointed out that two-thirds of free schools have opened in the most deprived areas of the country.
"They are offering parents more choice than ever before and allowing thousands more children the opportunity to go to an outstanding state school," he added.
Posted by Harriet McGowan