Exclusive: Taxpayers footed £1m bill for free schools that never even opened

Primary free schools are underperforming in reading, writing and mathematics compared with the rest of the state sector

More than £1m of taxpayers’ money has been spent on proposals for free schools that never opened.

The figures are disclosed in a dossier given to The Independent on which the Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, is expected to be questioned by MPs on Wednesday. The report, compiled by the Labour Party, also shows that £50m has been spent on free schools either declared inadequate by the education standards watchdog, Ofsted, or requiring improvement. A further £1.043m was spent on applications that were cancelled or withdrawn.

Labour has also accused the Government of “trying to massage the figures” around free-school performance. In one instance, Hartsbrook E-Act free school in north London was given a new name and a new official number after being declared inadequate by Ofsted. This means it appears as “closed” on official databases and has had its performance record withdrawn – even though it has now reopened as Brook House Primary School with the same headteacher, location and pupils. “As a new school, it isn’t due to be inspected again until four terms have elapsed,” the dossier adds.

 

The figures show that one in three of the 79 free schools approved in the first and second waves of the project was subsequently declared inadequate or requiring improvement by Ofsted. This compares with one in five of schools overall. Primary free schools are underperforming in reading, writing and mathematics compared with the rest of the state sector, the dossier claims.

Figures show that 79 per cent of pupils in local authority-run schools reach the required standard in reading, writing and maths tests for  11-year-olds – compared with 70 per cent in free schools.

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The Education Secretary Nicky Morgan is expected to be questioned about the dossier

Of those free schools whose 2013 national-curriculum test results were published, all bar one underperformed compared with the rest in their local authority and the national average. “David Cameron’s free-schools programme is damaging standards and wasting public money,” said the shadow Education Secretary, Tristram Hunt. “Over one-third have employed unqualified teachers, too many are failing their Ofsted inspections, and a complete lack of local oversight is allowing underperformance in these schools to go unchecked for far too long.

“Labour would end the failing free-schools programme and reverse David Cameron’s decision to allow unqualified teachers in our schools.”

The dossier is likely to be seized on by MPs when Ms Morgan goes before the Commons Education Select Committee on Wednesday to answer questions about the Government’s free schools and academies scheme.

A Tory spokesman said the dossier was “desparate stuff”, adding: “Free schools have been a tremendous success. They are a vital part of our plan for education that is turning around Labour’s mess.”

He added that Hartsbrook school had just been through a “rebrokering procedure – one of the recognised ways we deal with under-performing free schools and academies”.

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