Groups hoping to set up new free schools in large parts of the country will no longer receive bespoke support from the government-funded charity that backs the programme, its director has suggested.
New Schools Network leader, Toby Young, also told Tes he expected a sharp drop in the number of free schools created in the next round, saying it was “likely to be less than half that number of last time”.
This week, the charity launched an online "map of need" that aims to highlight the parts of England with the greatest current and projected need for new schools, based on demographics and educational performance.
It comes after the government’s social mobility action plan said that the free schools programme would now have a “specific focus” on the third of the country with "the weakest educational performance and capacity to improve".
Toby Young, director of the New Schools Network, told Tes that the charity would have to “prioritise which groups we work within our development programme”.
He added: “If there’s no demographic or educational need in an area where a group wants to set up a school, I think we probably will advise them that their chances of getting their school approved in the next application round are pretty remote. We don’t want them to waste their time.
“We will still provide them with some support, but we probably won’t bring them into our development programme where they get one-to-one bespoke support.”
Exception to the rule
However, he said there could be an exception for proposed specialist maths schools, which would have larger catchment areas.
Education secretary Justine Greening was criticised last month by Nick Timothy – the prime minister's former adviser – for "slowing down" the free schools programme.
Mr Young’s comments come amid controversy about his appointment as a board member of the new Office for Students, after he was accused of making crude and inappropriate remarks in social media posts in the past, including about women's breasts.
When asked whether the controversy would undermine his position as a public face of free schools, he said: “I don’t think so. Free schools generate a lot of controversy in their own right and the brickbats being thrown at me now are quite similar to the brickbats being thrown at me when I proposed setting up a free school in 2009.”
He added: “Being on the board of the Office for Students will be helpful because it means I will come into contact with senior people at English universities, and if they are interested in setting up free schools I can talk to them about that.”