DfE opens bids for next wave of free schools

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The Department for Education has launched the bidding round for the next wave of free schools, targeted at areas in need of new mainstream schools.

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More than 500 free schools have opened since 2010 with more than 220 set to open in the next few years, the Government said.

The news follows the Prime Minister’s recent announcement that the Government is to invest over £14 billion in primary and secondary education between now and 2022/23.

The Government hopes to select up to 30 schools through Wave 14, subject to the quality of bids.

Free schools are new schools set up by parents, teachers, charities, academy sponsors and existing schools in response to demand from the local community.

However,  teaching unions oppose free schools and believe that local authorities should be allowed to set up new maintained schools in areas that need them.

Twenty-two new schools were successful during the 13th wave of funding, which will offer 19,000 new places.

However, the successful bids were all from established academy trusts, rather than parent groups.

The Government is particularly encouraging applications from parts of the country that have not previously benefited, as well as alternative provision and special schools.

Ahead of a visit to a London primary school, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said, ‘Every child should have access to a good school place, no matter their background or where they live.

‘Free schools help to ensure children are getting the best education possible – offering exceptional teaching, encouraging strong discipline and providing families with more choices.

‘I want to see even more of these excellent schools open, particularly in areas most in need of more good and outstanding school places.’

According to the DfE, 84 per cent of free schools that have been inspected are graded good or outstanding.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said, ‘Our free schools programme, introduced nearly a decade ago, is transforming education for children all over the country, wherever they live and whatever their ability.

‘Our reforms have backed the innovative and trailblazing school leaders who are running great schools up and down the country. I want to harness that expertise and use it in the areas where there is still more to do, including the alternative provision and special school sectors.’

However, teaching unions accused the Government of being 'reckless' by investing millionsof pounds in free schools regardless of local need.

Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said, ‘Once again, this Government is throwing taxpayers’ money at its pet project free schools instead of taking a long hard look at where investment is most needed after a decade in which schools across England have been starved of cash.

‘The Government’s academy and free schools programme is in crisis. Almost 70 “orphan schools” do not have a sponsor and yet the Government recklessly wants to expand the programme. 

‘The most sensible and financially sound way to get new school places in the areas and phases of education that most need them is to allow local authorities to establish new maintained schools and to give them the legal powers to instruct academies and free schools to expand where they have the capacity to do so. Instead the Government’s reckless approach is to invest millions of pounds in new schools regardless of local need.

‘The Government continues to make wild claims to justify its free schools programme. Once the 23 free schools that have had to close due to serious failings are factored in, free schools are less likely to be rated good or outstanding by Ofsted than other state-funded schools.’

Angela Rayner MP, Labour's shadow education secretary, said, ‘The Government’s free schools programme has failed to create the school places that our children need. Too often new schools are not opening where they are needed and local communities are not getting new schools.

‘The Tories have repeatedly cut the capital funding available for new school places and buildings, and last week’s Spending Review revealed that the Department for Education’s capital budget will fall yet again next year.

‘A Labour government will end the inefficient free schools programme and allow local authorities to open new schools in their area, backed up by new investment to ensure that every community can open new schools when they need them.’

  • The deadline for submitting an application to open a new free school in Wave 14 is 11 November 2019.
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