Some 44 per cent of free schools in waves 7 to 10 of the programme started out in temporary accommodation, according to the Department for Education’s business case for LocatED.
Current trends suggest that a significant proportion of these will go on to find a permanent base. However, this is often a slow process.
Last year, an analysis by Tes showed that a significant number of free schools had been in temporary accommodation for at least two years longer than planned. They included a school that was found by Ofsted to have no toilets for disabled pupils, and another that had to find £40,000 a year for buses to take pupils to off-site lessons owing to space restrictions in its temporary building.
The LocatED business case suggests that the struggle to find suitable buildings will only get worse. It states: “The free school programme is scaling up significantly at the same time as sites are becoming more challenging to acquire.”
This is partly due to a “diminishing stock” of suitable buildings, many of which have been taken by other schools that have opened in recent years in areas that need new school places.
The Brexit decision, it adds, has created “additional uncertainty for the process of acquiring free school sites” due to the impact on the property market.
House of Commons Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier says: “It breaks my heart as a Hackney MP.
“We worked very hard to get good, decent schools and premises for children in London, and now we’re seeing schools built in inappropriate accommodation like old offices.”
She is also concerned about free schools opening without adequate sports facilities, and cites a school in which pupils have to play netball in a public car park.
“It’s ludicrous to me…when we look at childhood obesity and the cost to the health service,” says Hillier.