A total of £186 million has been spent on free schools that subsequently closed, according to new analysis by the NEU teaching union.
Research published today shows that one in eight schools that opened under the free school banner – a flagship Conservative policy – either closed completely or were transferred to an academy trust.
According to the NEU analysis of government data, £303 million has been spent on failed free schools, university technical colleges (UTCs) and studio schools since 2010.
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Of this, £295 million went to schools that either closed or were transferred to trusts. The remaining £8 million was spent on 65 approved schools that did not open.
Free schools: 'A shocking record of failure'
Of the £295 million, the total spend on the 45 schools that closed completely was £186 million, while £108 million was spent on set-up costs for the 31 schools that were subsequently rebrokered. The NEU says the government data does not include all unsuccessful free schools, UTCs and studio schools.
Kevin Courtney (pictured), joint general secretary of the NEU, said: “These figures reveal a shocking record of failure and waste that has been the hallmark of the free school programme. Conservative politicians should be ashamed of the fact that one in eight of these schools has not been successful, and that this has incurred a staggering waste of taxpayers’ money to the tune of over £300 million.”
He added: “The free school policy is one of the few specific education commitments made in the Conservative Party manifesto. Continuing to pursue this tainted and wasteful vanity project is bad enough, but to do so while refusing to give other schools the funds they desperately need is a disgrace.
“Free school closures are not just a huge waste of money – they also cause massive upheaval, disruption and distress for the staff, pupils and parents affected. It is usually the local authority that is left to pick up the pieces, such as finding new school places for pupils when a school closes. This puts extra financial and resource burdens on councils when they themselves lack sufficient finances.”
Parents 'voting with their feet'
A spokesperson for New Schools Network, a charity set up to support the creation of free schools, said: “The NEU’s figures are deliberately misleading – but these tactics are wholly unsurprising, given the reality of free schools’ success.
"Thirty per cent of free schools are Ofsted 'outstanding', compared to 19 per cent of all other schools nationally, and again and again we see parents voting with their feet, choosing their local free school as their school of choice. It’s disappointing that the NEU would want to mislead people in this way: any basic checking of the facts shows that of the 752 schools that have closed since 2010, 13 were free schools, compared to 334 that were council-run schools.
"Overall, 98 per cent of free schools established are open and thriving, and given their best-in-class performance and popularity, any government wanting to show it was serious about raising standards, would continue to invest in the programme at scale.”