Free schools to blame for lack of places, says leading Tory

The Government's trumpeted education policy is resulting in fewer options for parents

The Government's flagship free schools policy is in danger of limiting parents' choice of schooling for their children, a leading Conservative politician claims today.

Bureaucratic delays – mainly concerned with appointing providers to run the schools – meant that some had been unable to open on time, thus limiting the number of schools available to parents, David Simmonds, the Local Government Association's lead spokesman on children's services, said. In addition, in a submission to the Treasury in advance of Thursday's pre-Budget statement by Chancellor George Osbourne, the LGA points out that only 58 per cent of all new school places under the free schools project last year were in areas with the greatest need of expansion.

Mr Simmonds cited the case of a school in Wokingham, Surrey, where a brand new school had been "moth-balled" for a year because of delays in teaming it up with a provider (sponsor). "It was in an area of great demand but it has had to be moth-balled until next September," he said. "It had been due to take in pupils from September. It would seem to be logical to have more flexibility over provision – this is not a case for having lots more local authority-maintained schools, though."

His comments come as the free school project of Education Secretary Michael Gove faces growing criticism. Only last week one of the first schools to be set up under the policy, Discovery New School in Crawley, West Sussex, was warned that it faces closure if it does not come up with a convincing rescue package within a fortnight. The Montessori primary school was told upon being reinspected by the education standards watchdog, Ofsted, that very little progress had been made since an earlier inspection team had failed it.

In addition, trustees of the Al-Madinah Muslim free school in Derby have resigned after the Schools Minister Lord Nash told them he was not convinced they were strong enough to transform the school. The school had to close earlier this term for a week after it was found that checks had not been carried out on staff.

The delays – which come at a time when ministers have decreed that all new schools should be free schools or academies – have coincided with an unprecedented shortfall in school places because of a bulge in the birth rate.

In its submission to the Treasury, the LGA estimates that a further 256,000 school places will be needed next year. It acknowledges that the free schools programme has been allocated £1.7bn for next year, but says that most free schools will not be operating at their full capacity by then. In addition, only 8,800 of the 24,500 new places provided in free schools last year were in primary schools – the age range with the greatest need.

Local councils had provided an extra 81,500 places between 2010 and 2012 but, in the process, had been forced to ask schools to add extra classrooms or give up valued space for items such as music provision or libraries.

"So far, we have met our responsibility to provide every child with a school place," said Mr Simmonds, who is also a cabinet member for education and children's services in Hillingdon, west London, "but inner-city schools are going to struggle. Many schools have expanded.

"The easier solutions have all been used up by councils. And many parents who say that they want a choice of schooling for their children may find there is only one school that can take a child."

A Department for Education spokeswoman said: "We are spending £5bn by 2016 on creating new school places – more than double the amount spent by the previous government in the same time frame. In addition, we have made the free school application process much easier and have extended application rounds to three a year." However, she said it still had "extremely rigorous criteria in place to ensure taxpayers' money is spent wisely".

She said that 70 per cent of all open free schools were in areas of need, while all the open and planned free schools would deliver 130,000 new places.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Nurse and Room Leader - Hackney

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a qualified childcare p...

QAA: Independent member of the QAA Board of Directors

Expenses paid in connection with duties: QAA: QAA is inviting applications to ...

AER Teachers: PPA TEACHER/MENTOR

£27000 - £37000 per annum: AER Teachers: THE SCHOOL: This is a large and vibra...

AER Teachers: EYFS Teacher

£27000 - £37000 per annum: AER Teachers: EYFS TEACHERAn 'Outstanding' Primary ...

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea