Government's free schools are opening where they're not needed, teachers say - while primary schools face shortage 'crisis'


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The Independent Online

One in five of the Government’s flagship free schools are being opened in areas where there is no need for more school places, new research has revealed.

A report released by the National Union of Teachers shows that 29 of the 145 free schools opened this academic year or the next are in areas where more than 10 per cent of existing school places are unfilled.

The findings will fuel claims by both the teachers’ unions and Labour that Education Secretary Michael Gove is wasting taxpayers’ money on his pet project – while failing to tackle the “crisis” of a shortage of primary school places.

The research, based on statistics from the Department for Education, follows a report from the National Audit Office showing England will need an extra 256,000 primary places by next year.

Teachers’ leaders pointed out that 28 of the 29 schools in areas where there was no need for extra places were secondary schools.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the NUT, said:  “Instead of local authorities being funded to address the primary place shortage that is gripping many areas of the country, some councils are instead facing a growing and excessive surplus of unnecessary secondary school places because the Secretary of State has approved new secondary free schools in local areas in which there are demonstrably no need.

“Michael Gove is failing in his duty to parents, pupils and the taxpayer.”

Kevin Courtney, the union’s deputy general secretary, added: “There is a real danger that these (primary) school places are just going to be filled by temporary portakabins in school playgrounds.”

The research showed that – in Central Bedfordshire – a secondary free school was set to open in September while there was expected to be a 24.1 per cent surplus in secondary school places by 2016/17.  At the same time, there was predicted to be a 42.8 per cent shortage of places in the primary sector.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education said:  “The majority of open mainstream free schools are in areas with the greatest pressure on places.

“More than two-thirds of those planned to open in 2013 and beyond will also be in areas of basic need.

“We have always made it clear that we want free schools to open where there is a demand from the local community – whether that is down to basic need or because existing schools do not offer what parents want.”

She added that ministers had opened 80,000 new primary school places in the past two years and were planning to spend £5 billion on new places by 2015.