Free schools programme costing £1.1 billion

The cost of establishing a free school has doubled to £6.6 million, according to a damning report from the public spending watchdog.

Michael Gove’s free schools are costing twice as much to build as originally estimated and are failing to tackle the shortage of classroom places in many areas, the BBC reports.

The  new analysis from the National Audit Office (NAO) is the most authoritative since free schools were launched in 2010 and acknowledges that “clear progress” has been made, with 174 open and 116 in the pipeline. While costs have spiralled, the schools have been built at a much lower cost than previously.

However, there isn’t a single application for a new free school in half the districts with the most pressing need and 64 of the free schools it surveyed have almost three times as many unqualified teachers as the average state school. The NAO warns that the DfE will “need to exercise more control over rising costs” and “systematically learn lessons from performance issues in new schools”.

Shadow Education Secretary Tristam Hunt described the report as “further evidence of the inexcusable crisis David Cameron has created in school places. We know standards are suffering as a result.” Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, blames the DfE: “It appears that the Department for Education has neglected value for money in its rush to open free schools.”

The report follows critical assessments of two free schools, the Al Madinah Muslim school in Derby and the Kings Science Academy in Bradford. It concluded that “the primary factor in decision-making has been opening schools at a pace rather than maximising value for money”.

Do you agree with Ofsted’s criticisms of the free schools programme?  Share your views with the Eteach community!

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