Prime minister Boris Johnson has pledged to create thousands more free school places and is calling on parents, educational groups and community organisations to come together to set up brand new free schools.
Announcing the 14th wave of free-school applications since 2010, Mr Johnson said: “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.”
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There are currently more than 500 free schools across the country that have opened since 2010, providing education to more than 133,000 pupils.
Of those inspected by Ofsted, 84 per cent have been rated "good" or "outstanding", and last year, four of the top 10 Progress 8 scores for state-funded schools in England were achieved by free schools, according to the government.
But the NEU teaching union says free schools are less likely to be rated "good" or "outstanding" than other state-funded schools, and says that, among free schools, there are almost 70 “orphan schools” that do not have a sponsor, while a total of 23 free schools have had to close owing to “serious failings.”
NEU joint general secretary Mary Bousted said: “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 latest round of applications for the free-schools programme is open to everyone, but the government says it is particularly encouraging applications from parts of the country that have not “previously benefited” as well as those for alternative provision and special schools.
Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Our reforms have backed the innovative and trailblazing school leaders who are running great schools up and down the country. I want to harness that expertise and use it in the areas where there is still more to do, including the alternative provision and special school sectors.”
The deadline for applications is 11 November 2019.