“Special schools focus for next round of 'free' school bids”

By Dan Parton

| 10 September 2019

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a new round of applications to set up "free" schools, with a focus on applications for alternative provision and special schools.

Since the controversial policy was introduced in 2010 by the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government, more than 500 free schools have opened, creating 133,000 places. Another 220 are set to open in the next few years.

More than 40 per cent of free schools are in the 30 per cent most deprived communities in the country and 18 per cent of all free schools are dedicated to special needs or alternative provision.

Despite this, the Department for Education wants applications for wave 14 of free schools to come from areas of the country that are "in most need of good new mainstream schools". It hopes to select up to 30 schools.

Under wave 13 of the scheme, 22 schools were chosen for funding offering 19,000 new school places.

Johnson said: "Every child should have access to a good school place, no matter their background or where they live.

"Free schools help to ensure children are getting the best education possible - offering exceptional teaching, encouraging strong discipline and providing families with more choices.

"I want to see even more of these excellent schools open, particularly in areas most in need of more good and outstanding school places."

However, the announcement has been criticised by Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, for not addressing local need.

"Once again, this government is throwing taxpayers' money at its pet project free schools instead of taking a long hard look at where investment is most needed after a decade in which schools across England have been starved of cash," she said.

"The government's academy and free schools programme is in crisis. Almost 70 ‘orphan schools' do not have a sponsor and yet the government recklessly wants to expand the programme.

"The most sensible and financially sound way to get new school places in the areas and phases of education that most need them is to allow local authorities to establish new maintained schools and to give them the legal powers to instruct academies and free schools to expand where they have the capacity to do so. Instead the government's reckless approach is to invest millions of pounds in new schools regardless of local need.

"The government continues to make wild claims to justify its free schools programme. Once the 23 free schools that have had to close due to serious failings are factored in, free schools are less likely to be rated good or outstanding by Ofsted than other state-funded schools."

In July, the New Schools Network called for more free schools to be opened in disadvantaged areas in its Free Schools: The Next 10 Years report.

The deadline for submitting an application to Wave 14 is 11 November.