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?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Recruitment Genius: Nursery Manager

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Nursery Manager is required t...

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Windo...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk