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More free schools set for the North and Midlands

DfE commits to opening new schools in areas where standards need to be raised

Could the free schools programme have increasing Northern focus?

DfE commits to opening new schools in areas where standards need to be raised

The next wave of the free schools programme is set to be increasingly focused on the North and the Midlands as the Department for Education commits to opening schools in areas where it says there is a need to raise standards.

The DfE said today it will open a new wave of schools in areas where they are most needed – including in disadvantaged areas.

However, the list of free schools approved to open in this latest wave is not expected until early next year.

This will be almost two years since the Government last announced a major wave of new free school projects.

Education secretary Damian Hinds said: “Children only get one chance at an education and they deserve the best, wherever they live and whatever their background. Standards are rising in our schools and we’ve created hundreds of thousands of new places since 2010, but we want to make sure every family can access a good school.

“By creating new schools where they are needed most and helping all great schools to grow, we can give parents greater choice in looking at schools that are right for their family – and give children of all backgrounds access to a world-class education.”

Mark Lehain, director of Parents and Teachers for Excellence, said: “Already hundreds of towns and tens of thousands of families have benefitted from the addition of great new schools to our system, and the next wave, targeted at areas that haven’t yet had this, will ensure the benefits are felt wider still.”

Tes revealed last week that there was a major north/south divide in the number of parent and community-led free schools that have opened – with the majority based in London and the South. New figures also showed that the number of parent-led schools has been in decline for each of the past six academic years.

The DfE said yesterday that there are almost 400 free schools open across the country.

It plans to use the £270 million free schools budget to open 110 more schools by 2020. However, these will include voluntary aided schools as well as free schools.

The NEU teaching union criticised the latest free school announcement.

Joint general secretary Kevin Courtney said: “Expanding the number of unaccountable free schools will not solve the school place shortage. Instead, the government must return powers and funding to local authorities to enable them to plan and manage school places in a rational and cost-effective way.

"Schools must be accountable to communities – this is the only way we can avoid the academic and governance failures and school closures that have characterised the free schools programme to date."

Earlier this year, the DfE announced that 14 new special free schools were set to open.

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