The government has spent almost £60m on helping free schools in England before they open and during their first year of operation, figures reveal.
The figures were published by the Department for Education after a ruling by the information commissioner.
In January, the government lost a bid to withhold information on free schools that are state-funded but independently run.
The money is in addition to the funding schools receive to teach pupils.
Details of revenue expenditure on free schools on the Department for Education website show almost £40m was handed to 72 free schools in their first year after opening.
This “start-up funding” is to cover “essential initial costs, such as buying books and equipment” and other “additional costs associated with starting a brand new school”, says the DfE.
In addition nearly £20m was spent on schools before they opened “to cover everything they need to buy up to the point at which the school opens.”
The first 24 free schools opened in 2011, with another 55 in 2012. This funding does not include capital for buying a site or refurbishing buildings or money for free schools due to open later this year.
Private schools which convert to free school status do not receive start-up funding as they are already open and deemed to be fully equipped.
The data also shows that some £441,000 was spent on eight free school projects which were withdrawn before they opened.
Stephen Twigg, Labour’s shadow education secretary called the expenditure “scandalous”.
“David Cameron and Michael Gove have wasted hundreds of thousands of pounds on free schools that haven’t even opened. And millions of pounds have been spent on free schools which are being set up in areas where there isn’t a need for new places or demand from parents.” If this is indeed the case, then this is another example of the incompetence of Michael Gove and his plans. If these schools are set up in areas where the demand for places is significantly higher, then, as much as I’m against free schools as they are, it would be understandable as this would reduce the number of children struggling for places.
The government said it made “no apologies for spending money on encouraging new people to come forward, offering new ideas and new ways to run schools”.
A spokesman added: “The evidence proves that new schools also encourage the ones which already exist to raise their game.” Well actually DfE, it is taking money out of the existing schools’ budgets, which could actually lower the standards as opposed to raise them. So instead of looking at it from a theoretical perspective, look at it from an economical one.
The spokesman also said: “Free schools are proving highly popular with families who expect better than the old ‘take it or leave it’ offer they used to get from the council. This process has a cost but the cost of educational failure is vastly higher.” It’s true that families want the best for their children, but what really is an ‘outstanding education’. Those who watch the Channel 4 program Child Genius will see an alarming difference between what education does for the top 0.1% and what children can do on average. Does the government expect these Free Schools to produce the top 0.1% children?
The DfE had rejected Freedom of Information requests for for details on free schools and on groups applying to set them up but the information commissioner backed the requests. Why DfE? What you trying to hide from us? Come on spill the beans!
The newly published figures include impact assessments on other local schools, funding agreements for the second wave of schools and details of expenditure for all the schools now open.
There are also details of all applications, both successful and unsuccessful, to open both mainstream free schools and specialist free schools, such as university technology colleges or studio schools.
In a letter to the information commissioner in February, the Education Secretary said he had resisted publishing the information because he wanted to protect applicants from “intimidation”. Oh come on Mr Gove! If you put a radical scheme like this in place, of course people will want to know the impact it’s having! If it’s having a negative effect then of course it looks bad on not only the schools but you and your plans. What can go wrong with that? If it does go wrong, you get removed and who knows? We may actually get someone in who has experience in education, not just some arrogant journalist.
Kevin Courtney of the National Union of Teachers, said publication of the information was a major victory.
“We will now be going back to them to insist that they publish the remaining impact assessments where a decision has been made whether or not to open a free school.
“Not releasing the impact assessment information has always been a totally unacceptable position for the DfE to take. Local schools and communities have a right to know the criteria by which new schools are being opened in their areas and now thankfully they do.”
Another 200 free schools are due to open from September 2013. In Wednesday’s spending review the Chancellor announced funding for 180 new free schools in 2015-16. We could end up being a nation of free schools if this carries on. Although if Labour win the General Election in 2015, all this may change once again. Only time will tell.
What do you think? Do you like the way we’re going at the moment? Are you surprised with all the money being spent on it so far? Do you think these new schools are having or will have the desired effect? Comment, share your thoughts 🙂