MPs have warned the Government its system for funding new free schools is ‘increasingly incoherent’ and ‘too often poor value for money’.
The Department for Education (DfE) is committed to building 500 more free schools by 2020. These are Government-funded academies set up by groups of parents, teachers, charities, trusts, religious and voluntary groups.
Whitehall has opened 124 since 2015 and recently approved applications for 131 more in what was described as the ‘biggest wave’ of free schools this Parliament.
However, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has accused the DfE of ‘spending well over the odds’ in trying to reach its free school target while leaving other schools in poor condition.
It said many free schools are set up in inadequate premises, without on-site playgrounds or sports facilities, while the existing school estate is deteriorating.
The committee’s report also noted a problem when it came to guaranteeing school places.
Local authorities are legally responsible for ensuring that there are enough school places for all children to attend good schools. However, they have no direct control of free school places or admissions policies.
‘All this made us question how much of a grip the department really has in providing school places where they are needed,’ the report summary said.
‘Having enough school places in safe, high-quality buildings in the areas where places are needed is a crucial part of an effective education system.
‘Without this, parents may have less choice, pupils may have inconvenient journeys to school and the learning environment may be less effective, putting educational outcomes at risk.’