Government attacked for management of free school projects

Joe Lepper
Monday, September 3, 2012

The government's handling of the free school programme has come under fire with accusations of wasted money and unfair treatment.

A further 55 free schools will open this month. Image: Tom Campbell
A further 55 free schools will open this month. Image: Tom Campbell

In an open letter to Education Secretary Michael Gove, Labour's shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg accused him of squandering taxpayers' money on abandoned or underused free school projects.

Labour claimed the cost of deferring the opening of the One in a Million free school in Bradford and the abandoned Rivendale Primary School in London amounts to £327,000.

A further £2m was spent on the Beccles Free School, in Suffolk, which is set to open next week with just 68 pupils. Twigg called for greater transparency around the costs of the free schools initiative.

He also wants to see the publication of details of a further three failed free school projects: The Chorley Career and Sixth Form Academy, Rotherham Central Free School and the Newham Free Academy.

Twigg said: "Now more than ever it is critical that taxpayers' money is spent wisely. By pursuing pet projects, rather than setting up schools where they are needed, millions of pounds that could be spent on improving education are being poured down the drain."

Parents of children due to start at the One in a Million free school today (3 September) are said to have been left "devastated" after funding for the project was pulled just a week before the planned opening.

A mother whose son was due to start at the school this week has launched an online petition against the Department for Education's decision to pull funding.

Janet East said: "I cannot sit back and allow this to happen without a fight. I know that on my own I am powerless, but I have tried to gather up support."

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the NUT, backed Twigg's call for greater transparency. He said: "Michael Gove refuses to release the impact assessments on how a free school might affect other schools in the community."

The NUT has asked the information commissioner to intervene and make sure that the impact assessments are published.

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "These figures are grossly exaggerated. The truth is free schools are opening more quickly and have been delivered more cheaply than previous schemes. Free schools are also proving overwhelmingly popular with parents - the vast majority of those opened in 2011 are already full.

"We will never gamble with the future of our children and make no apologies for setting high standards. We would never allow a free school to open which didn't satisfy the needs of the local community and meet our strict criteria."

The government has announced that a further 55 free school will open this month adding to the 24 already launched.

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